Last week, Matthew Shepard was an undergraduate political science major at the University of Wyoming who enjoyed late-night conversations about ethics and U.S. policy in Bosnia. Wednesday night, thousands of people, including Georgetown students from G.U. Pride and the College Democrats, filled the lawn in front of the U.S. Capitol to mourn the death of the 21-year old student most of them had never known. Shepard was killed last week near Laramie, Wyo. He was lured from a bar, beaten with a pistol butt and left tied to a fence, according to police. Two Laramie men and their girlfriends are facing charges in the case. Russell Arthur Henderson, 21 and Aaron James McKinney, 22, were charged with first degree murder, kidnapping and robbery. Their girlfriends, Chastity Vera Pasley, 20 and Kristen Leann Price, 18, were charged as accessories to first degree murder. In the days since his death, a sense of loss, evident on the faces of those at the vigil, has reached beyond the confines of the gay community. Participants at Wednesday’s event said they felt as if they had lost someone close to them, a feeling made more palpable by the speeches delivered from the podium at the front of the lawn by those who had actually known Shepard. Shepard’s friends described him as a thoughtful and fun-loving person who wanted to help others in need. Many of those assembled said they believed that in death, he may have done just that. The dozens of official speakers at Wednesday’s event called for passage of federal hate crimes legislation that would include protection for gays and lesbians. Speakers included comedian Ellen DeGeneres and her partner, Ann Heche, as well as former Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson and current Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). The on-stage atmosphere was markedly bipartisan, as members of both parties, including Simpson and Frank, called for passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill would “broaden existing law to cover offenses motivated by a person’s gender, disability or sexual orientation, and would make it easier for federal authorities to step in and prosecute such crimes,” according to the Oct. 15 edition of the Washington Post. Speaking before the event, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said, “The plight of gay Americans as we enter the 21st century can be compared to that of African-Americans as we entered the 20th.” Off-stage, however, the atmosphere was less congenial. Several members of the audience booed, muttered and called names when Republicans stood up to speak. G.U. Pride President Pat Carroll (SFS ’99) tried to explain the crowd’s negative reaction to some of the political speakers. “I was standing there in front of this building where a homophobic government sits. I thought of the children being taken away from their gay parents, `don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and the Defense of Marriage Act.” The Defense of Marriage Act, passed by the 105th Congress, prohibits same-sex marriages. “Sadly, in this century, we seem to make progress on human rights through human sacrifice,” said Rea Carey, a vigil organizer.

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