By Rick Sallinger
LARAMIE, Wyo. (CBS4) – Twenty years ago this week, a gay University of Wyoming student was offered a ride from a bar and was then beaten to death near Laramie. The murder of Matthew Shepard spread outrage across the nation.
A fence became a lasting image of a life lost due to hatred.
Jason Marsden, who is gay, was a friend of Shepard and recalls the palpable fear and questions raised then.
“Would this produce copy cat attacks? Did others feel same way? Were we safe in our communities as we normally felt?” he told CBS4’s Rick Sallinger.
From the day Shepard was found through the days after he died, there were vigils in Wyoming and Colorado. Among those speaking outside the Colorado state capitol was then-Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.
“What happened in Laramie could happen anywhere,” he told the large crowd.
The two men who offered Shepard a ride home then robbed and beat him were sentenced to life. Others opened their hearts and pocket books.
“Those donations were kind of like coins in a wishing well. People were wishing something positive could happen,” Marsden said.
The money sent to Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis, led to the creation of the Matthew Shepard Foundation based in Denver.
Marsden is its executive director. In the past 20 years he has seen legalized gay marriage, anti-hate laws and more.
“LGBT people can serve in military, equal standing in immigration system, companies have non-discrimination policies and many states have statutes,” he said.
But he says there has been a backlash too. And what happened 20 years ago can still happen today.