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Saturday, October 17, 1998 Published at 00:10 GMT 01:10 UK

World: Americas

Americans mourn gay hate-crime victim

Anti-gay protesters picketed the funeral

The funeral has taken place in the United States of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year-old student who was apparently beaten to death because he was gay.

Bridget Kendall reports from Washington
Friends and family gathered in pouring rain at the church in the town of Casper, Wyoming, where he was baptised.

The brutal way in which he died has shocked the country. President Clinton, who said he was "deeply grieved" and "horrified" by the killing, sent two representatives to the funeral.

[ image: The Shepard family joined the pleas for tolerance]
The Shepard family joined the pleas for tolerance
Tied to a fence, Matthew Shepard was repeatedly beaten by his attackers and then left for dead in near freezing temperatures.

The bicyclist who found him on Wednesday, some 18 hours after the attack, first mistook him for a scarecrow.

Authorities said he had been pistol-whipped after being lured from a campus bar by two men who told him they were gay.

He died in hospital on Monday - his skull was so badly fractured by the beating that doctors said surgery was not an option.

Two charged

Two 21-year-old men have been charged with first degree murder.

[ image: University of Wyoming students protest at the killing]
University of Wyoming students protest at the killing
Police say although the main motive may have been robbery, the attackers also singled out their victim simply because he was gay.

The charge carries a possible death sentence, but prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty.

The savage attack has prompted numerous candle-lit vigils across America calling for tougher laws to combat hate crimes, which monitoring groups say are on the increase.

Members of Congress have joined prominent gay activists in expressing outrage and pleading for tolerance.

President Clinton has urged members of Congress to pass legislation making it easier for federal prosecution of hate crimes.

'Wake-up call'

At a rally in Washington DC, TV star Ellen Degeneres said heterosexuals should see he savage killing as "a wake-up call to help us end the hate."

[ image: The brutal killing has caused shock across America]
The brutal killing has caused shock across America
"Right now, homosexuals are the target of, at the very least, discrimination; at the very worst, hate and violence," she said.

At the funeral Matthew Shepard's father, Dennis, described him as a caring, loving person who would have been overwhelmed by what his death has done to the hearts of people around the world.

Reverend Royce Brown of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, where the funeral took place knew Matthew Shepard and his family well.

"He was a really nice kid. He was always willing to help," Reverend Boyce said. "You never needed to tell Matt what to do."

Anti-hate law

In response to the killing, Wyoming state legislators have called for the state to pass an anti-hate crime law.

[ image: Matthew Shepard:
Matthew Shepard: "A really nice kid"
But homosexuality is an issue that deeply divides America and anti-gay demonstrators held a rally at the funeral.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas, a group that regularly holds anti-gay pickets, said they would protest at the funeral, ignoring pleas for privacy from the Shepard family.

"We should try to remember that because Matt's last few minutes of consciousness on earth may have been hell, his family and friends want more than ever to say their farewells to him in a peaceful, dignified and loving manner," Matthew Shepards father said.

Wyoming State Governor Jim Geringer said officials could not stop the group from coming to Casper, but said their presence was not wanted.

"The people of Wyoming do not tolerate their hatred," said spokesman Jim Orr.

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Internet Links

Letters for Matt: University of Wyoming Newspaper

University of Wyoming: Benefit Fund for Matthew Shepard

State Governor Jim Geringer's Statement on the murder

PlanetOut: Special Report - Hate Crime in Wyoming

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