Hundreds turn out at vigil

Jake Kapsner

Hundreds of candles flickered in the hands of solemn people overflowing the aisles of St. Mark’s Cathedral near Loring Park on Wednesday night in remembrance of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who died Monday.
Shepard, a 22-year-old political science major, was found tethered to a rural fence 18 hours after he was kidnapped and brutally beaten. Wyoming police charged two men in the crime Wednesday with first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery.
In the Minneapolis church, rainbow-colored banners hung beside the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus as they sang: “We are gentle, angry people and we are singing, singing for our lives. We shall overcome.”
Onlookers lit candles, prayed and listened to voices of sorrow, outrage and hope at the vigil sponsored by OutFront Minnesota.
The horrifying crime “shattered” the exuberance of National Coming Out Week for many students at the University, said Beth Zemsky, director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Programs Office.
“The death of Matthew Shepard has profoundly shocked gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students,” Zemsky said, reading the saddened and outraged letters of University students.
Speakers thanked the audience for coming together as a community. Prayers and silence were offered for victims of hate crimes, their families and friends.
“It shows our community can unite to show our anger and our grief so hopefully nothing like this will ever happen again,” said Bill Hoover, a sophomore in the College of Liberal Arts.
The gathering was one of many vigils and rallies held across the nation this week with calls for Congress to pass a Federal Hate Crimes Protection Act. The act would extend current law to include gender, sexual orientation and physical disability as criteria for hate crimes. Currently, only crimes motivated by race, religion, color or national origin are considered federal offenses.
“How many more beatings and murders will it take for us to take action?” said Brennan Hannon, who works for the Minnesota AIDS Project.
Larry Bunting, chairman of a local chapter of the Human Rights Campaign and a gay man, called for support of the prevention act, saying that violence against gays and lesbians continues to occur in Minnesota.
Minnesota is one of 21 states that already lists sexual orientation in its hate crimes statutes.
“If you think this can’t happen here, wake up,” Hannon said. “We gathered here to express our sorrow, but sorrow is not enough. It’s time to get pissed off.”