Matthew Shepard Honored at Vigil
BOSTON--Whenever human rights and individual freedoms are threatened, it is a sure bet that the people of Boston will take a stand against it.
Last night at 6:30 p.m., close to 1,000 citizens gathered in front of the Massachusetts State House for a candlelight vigil to mourn the death of Matthew Shepard.
Shepard, who was a 21 year-old student at the University of Wyoming, died Monday at a Fort Collins, Colo. hospital, five days after he was found pistolwhipped and tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo. Six individuals, four men and two women, are suspects in the crime.
The vigil, which lasted more than two hours, was organized by David P. Rudewick, the Student Civil Rights Director of the Governor's Task Force on Hate Crimes. As the first speaker, Rudewick set the tone for the evening.
"Living here in the cradle of liberty, we have a message to send to the nation. Hate crimes of any kind will not be tolerated. We will protect everyone in this state," he said.
The participants agreed with Rudewick. Tory Griffith, a staff person for Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections, summed up the crowd's sentiments.
"We all feel great sadness and outrage over this incident," she said. "It is hard to believe this is 1998 and people are still essentially being lynched for being different from the majority."
A number of speakers followed Rudewick, all of whom voiced a similar message. Adam Strom, a director at the educational organization Facing History and Ourselves, said, "I wish I was surprised by this, but I am not."
Strom pointed out that Shepard's death is not an isolated incident. Thousands of hate crimes occur every year in this country--the majority of which go unreported by the media, he said.
David LaFontaine, a proponent of rights for gay and lesbian youth, said he believes young people need to be focused on in the aftermath of this incident.
"We need to frame our action in terms of students," LaFontaine said.
"More than a thousand teenagers commit suicide every year because of their sexual orientation. These deaths are clearly the result of the pressures of bigotry," he said.
The speakers made it abundantly clear they do not believe government at the federal or state level is doing enough to prevent hate crimes.
Abigail Michelson Porth, the Civil Rights Youth Coordinator for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), stressed, "We do not assemble here tonight just to grieve. We also assemble here to act."
Porth brought along with her a petition, created by the ADL, asking Congress to pass the Federal Hate Crimes Protection Act of 1998. This act seeks to prevent people from persecution based on gender, sexual orientation or physical disability.
The vast majority of the individuals present at the vigil signed the document. Malia Lazu, a senior at Emerson College, said, "This bill is extremely important to everyone in the queer community. Hate crimes just have to stop."
Leaders from Emerson, Tufts, and Northeastern's queer communities were all present at the event. Queer leaders from Harvard College did not attend.