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The University of Wyoming Community 25 years after Matthew Shepard's death

A young man, Matthew Shepard, on a corded telephone. He's looking down and away from the camera.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation

It was 25 years ago that Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was brutally murdered in Laramie. While long time residents may remember those events, a lot of Wyoming's college students weren't alive yet when it happened. Wyoming Public Radio's Jordan Uplinger interviewed people around campus to see what they think about the historic event.

Editor's Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Jamie: Yeah, I heard a little bit about him when I was a child. But when I came to the university and started getting involved here, I learned a lot more about it. And I have attended several of the vigils and different events around it.

Dr. Thomas Owen Mazzeti: I was five years old, living in Florida when I was a kid. And I learned about Matthew Shepard when I moved here for school in 2017. That’s how I learned about it, just through the Laramie community, just getting involved here.

Emilygrace Piel: So I first learned about Matthew Shepard in my sophomore year of high school, and I was in the theater program in Cheyenne where I grew up. And I told my teacher for a project I was working on, I wanted to [do a] play about LGBT people because I was just starting to realize my identity. And she said, 'Oh, you should read this.' And it was "The Laramie Project."

Michelle: The impact at that moment in time was simply how horrifying it was. Not that it happened in Wyoming, not that it happened in Laramie, the fact that it happened. And it was eye opening for a lot of people that that level of violence existed.

Vonny: Safer than they (the LGBTQ+ community) were 25 years ago? Definitely. I think they have a bigger community now. Safety, I’m not sure. I actually just moved here, so I’m not too sure how it was back then, cause I’m from San Francisco. So I have seen a lot of hate crimes toward people that come from that background.

Antonio Serrano: I'm happy that people feel that they can be their true selves and not have to hide it from the world. At the same time, politics feels like it's going backward. When it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, I feel like LGBTQ+ people are being targeted and attacked. And this is coming from everywhere, from school boards, to lawmakers, to people in DC, feels like they're all going after them.

Arozarena Pew: We're not 100 percent there. Obviously, it's a little bit better. But I still don't see it where a lot of folks are comfortable. So we have a lot of, sadly, homophobia in Wyoming. And we have a lot of folks that are just full of hate, sadly. So we're still there's still so much work to be done.

Henry Miller: I do think they've (attitudes) changed for [the] better, but I don't know quite what all that's saying, you know? You can go from zero to one, but at the end of the day, that's still a one. I can even see it kind of around the union as it's, like, we got Chick-fil-A opening over there, which that does not scream good things to me about our treatment or thoughts towards queer people.

Jamie: I definitely think they've (attitudes) changed. I don't think that he (Matthew Shepard) could have ever imagined that gay marriage would have been legalized. I think that that is something that it's been fantastic. However, on the other side, some things definitely haven't changed.

Piel: It is still like I said, like, as a queer person in Laramie, I think there's a really welcoming community here specifically. But there's also some antagonistic aspects of it. So I would say, general social acceptance, I say would be up. But I think in terms of the laws and the legislation that we put in place to protect people, I think that's still really lacking for that community.

Michelle: The community as a whole, I think, here in Laramie, specifically, has always been a much more open community. We have an incredibly diverse population, thanks to the university. And that bleeds over into the city of Laramie itself.

Mazzeti: So I feel like the acceptance and welcoming of the community and people to people, not organizations and stuff is really what matters. And forming those groups in spaces that people can be safe and, you know, feel connected with those around them rather than fearful from those around them.

Serrano: I'm happy that people like my kids can feel comfortable being their true selves in school, but at the same time, I'm scared with the heat that I could bring on them. You know what I mean?


That was University students Jamie, Michelle, and Henry Miller,

Community Member Vonny,

University Advisor Emilygrace Piel,

Doctor Thomas Owen Mazzeti,

Community Organizers Arozarena Pew

and Antonio Serrano.

The interviews were conducted by Wyoming Public Radio’s Jordan Uplinger.

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