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Security Tight For Speech By Matthew Shepard's Mom


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Security Tight For Speech By Matthew Shepard's Mom

by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff

Posted: October 19, 2005 1:00 pm ET

(Helena, Montana) A protest by members of a radical anti-gay religious group, and threats it might set off an explosive device, failed to materialize Tuesday night when the mother of Matthew Shepard spoke at Carroll College in Helena, Montana.

Police and private security guards hired by the college were visible in high numbers.

Last week the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, led by Rev. Fred Phelps and known for its strongly worded anti-gay literature, threatened to picket the event.

Fliers distributed on campus made reference to the use of "improvised explosive devices." A copy of the flier was faxed to the college administration with a return number traced to the church a Carroll spokesperson said.

Police are continuing to investigate the bomb threat to determine if charges will be laid. Although they regularly demonstrate at LGBT events - including Matthew Shepard's funeral - Phelps' followers have never used violence in the past.

Despite the high police presence the members of the Phelps clan did not show up.

About 500 students attended the speech. It was a requirement for all freshmen.

During the speech, marking the seventh anniversary of Matthew Shepard's murder, Judy Shepard called him “her friend, first-born and more”.

She challenged the students to reject homophobia.

“You don’t have to say those words, you don’t have to tell those jokes,” she said. “Are you the biggest bigot on the block? Only you know that.”

The speech also marked National Coming Out week. Shepard urged closeted gays in the audience to come out. The gay community has to make its stories known she said.

She also pressed for passage of federal legislation adding sexuality to hate crimes laws. This month the House passed the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act that adds gays, lesbians and the transgendered to the categories protected. (story) The Senate version remains tied up in committee, and would not cover transsexuals.

Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, pistol-whipped, robbed and left to die tied to a fence outside Laramie. He died five days later in hospital on October 12, 1998.

Two men, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney are each serving two life sentences for the killing.

Since her son's murder Judy Shepard has been an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights especially the need for hate crimes legislation.

A private Catholic college, Carroll has one of the nation's toughest non discrimination policies. In addition to making speeches such as that by Judy Shepard a requirement for freshmen, for the past three years it has required incoming students to attend a screening of "The Laramie Project" - the movie base on Shepard's killing.

©365Gay.com 2005


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