20 years ago this weekend, Matthew Shepard encountered Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson at the Fireside bar in Laramie. McKinney told police that he noticed that Shepard had money and decided to rob him. He admitted that he thought Shepard would be an easy target because he was small in stature and appeared to be gay.
From the time they learned about the Shepard attack, it was a busy time for Laramie law enforcement and the legal community as they dealt with the two people accused of murdering Matthew Shepard. The case had intense media scrutiny and international interest that overwhelmed residents of Laramie. Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck caught up with three people who were very closely involved in the case. A police investigator, a judge and a defense attorney who discuss their memories and what they think happened.
Matthew Shepard's murder was a shock to everyone in the city of Laramie…but especially to gay and lesbian couples living there. One couple was especially close to the crime. Julie Heggie was the county coroner and attended Matthew Shepard’s autopsy. Her partner at the time was Gayle Woodsum, a victim's advocate. Wyoming Public Radio's Melodie Edwards sat down with them to remember when Heggie got a strange phone call at three in the morning. She says it was the only time in her long career that she ever got a call concerning someone who hadn't died yet.
In a theatre class at Laramie High School, a dozen upperclassmen sit around a table on the stage. The class is studying and performing The Laramie Project, a play about the community's response to the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.
In order to convince tech companies to set up shop in Wyoming, some believe there needs to be a statewide anti-discrimination law on the books. That would change state law to provide protections to LGBTQ people that others already have. Supporters say such a law will resolve a perception problem the state has had since the murder of Matthew Shepard.
While a statewide anti-discrimination statute is getting more attention as a way to boost Wyoming’s economy, it’s not a new idea. Over the last 10 years a bill has been proposed in the state legislature at least six times. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tennessee Watson talked with LGBTQ Wyomingites about how the lack of protection contributes to an overall climate of instability and fear.
Matthew Shepard's murder occurred far from Cody, but the Wyoming town still felt the effect of the tragedy. While many know about it, the event hasn't markedly changed the culture in that part of the state. A lack of a support system for the LGBTQ community is energizing some to move forward to create a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club.
The three-part oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard moves through the life and death of Shepard and the resulting trial alternating in genre and perspective throughout. The large-scale composition written for an orchestra and chorus was written by Craig Hella Johnson. The piece touches on western themes, religious ones, as well as focusing on Shepard's humanity.