Father of Hate Crime Victim Concerned Over Anti-Gay Legislation

After Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998, his name became a mantra for anti-hate crime legislation. Witnesses said the University of Wyoming student was targeted because he was gay. His father came to Tennessee’s Capitol Hill Wednesday to ask for more tolerance.

Dennis Shepard told a gathering at Capitol Hill he was concerned about bills in the Tennessee legislature tagged locally as “Don’t Say Gay” and the “license to bully” act. So far this year the bills have gained little traction, but “don’t say gay” passed the Senate last year.

“Just the idea that you’re talking about it, bothers me. Because… you shouldn’t even have to talk about this. They’re American citizens. Let them have their peace and their privacy, and become the dull, boring people that we want them to be.”

Shepard says that passing bills that highlight persons of alternative sexual orientation drives people “further back into hiding” rather than letting them live normal lives that he says are “just as dull” as the straight community

Dennis Shepard and his wife Judy operate a foundation to seek new laws around the U.S. to prevent the sort of crime that killed their son. They’re in Nashville for a forum on human rights at Tennessee State University Thursday.

Web Extra:

Dennis Shepard was responding about two Tennessee legislative initiatives:

SB 49 Campfield / HB 22 Hensley, the “don’t say gay” bill that bars any mention of alternatives sexuality in a school environment. The bill passed in the state Senate in 2011 – on the next-to-last day of session – on a vote of 19-10.

In the House, the Education Subcommittee has deferred the “don’t say gay” bill to a special “curriculum calendar. There the bill must survive subcommittee, the full Education Committee, and the House floor. Putting the bill into action won’t require any new funding, legislative Fiscal Review staff says.

The second bill is HB 1153 Dennis/ SB 0760 Tracy, nick-named the “license to bully” bill. It is written to let students express any “religious, philosophical, or political views” that are “unpopular,” unless the expression becomes a physical threat to a person or property. This is a summary of the bill.

The Tracy/Dennis bill has a low profile in both houses. Both versions were filed in mid-February last year and have languished in the subcommittee of the House and Senate Education Committees along with scores of other proposals since then.

Please keep your community civil. Comments will be moderated prior to posting, and Nashville Public Radio reserves the right to approve them at its discretion. Comments containing links promoting goods, services - even noble organizations - will not be published. Your comments may include external links, but all comments with links will be delayed as they are reviewed. Comments containing profanity will be rejected.