Just after midnight on Oct. 7, 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson in a bar. After drinks, the two men offered Shepard a ride in their car.
Shepard was then robbed, tortured, pistol whipped and tied to a fence in a remote, rural area. He was found 18 hours later by Aaron Kreifels, who mistook Shepard for a scarecrow. Shepard was alive but in a coma.
Having suffered fractures to the back of his head and severe brain stem damage, doctors deemed his injuries too severe to operate. Shepard was pronounced dead at 12:53 p.m. on Oct. 12, 1998 at Poudre Valley Hospital.
Police then arrested McKinney and Henderson, who were later incarcerated.
Last Thursday, almost 11 years after Shepard’s brutal death, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to expand the definition of violent federal hate crimes to those committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.
This decision, which extends protection to gay, lesbian and transgender people, is long overdue.
Under current federal law, hate crimes are defined as those motivated by a victim’s race, religion, color and national origin.
With the law pending President Barack Obama’s signature, people should be left wondering why it has taken so long to get to this point in history.
Regardless of the timeframe, increasing protection to all people of this country is a must. So add this to your list of promises, Mr. President. Approve the law and protect your people — all of them.