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Vigils Across U.S. Mark Gay Attack

October 19, 1998

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ As thousands across the nation mourned the beating death of a gay University of Wyoming student, Amy Bates said the tragedy already has changed her life.

``I think it starts with breaking the silence, not being afraid to let your voice be heard in everyday life,″ she said.

She was among about 400 people who gathered in Nashville on Sunday night to hold a candlelight vigil for Matthew Shepard, 21, who was found tied to a fence post outside Laramie, Wyo. He died Oct. 12, and two men have been charged with murder.

``We must fight against hate crimes of all kinds. But tonight we must be radically honest _ Matthew is dead because he was gay,″ said Lloyd Lewis, associate dean at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. ``Matthew was brutally murdered, and we were all violated.″

Similar vigils were held in more than two dozen cities where mourners called for laws to protect homosexuals against bigoted attacks.

``We don’t have to know anything about Matthew,″ Leni Brown said at a vigil in Plainfield, N.J. ``What we do know is that a brave young man lost his life because he was different. The people who killed him couldn’t accept that.″

Many who rallied Sunday night said the events in Laramie could be duplicated in their cities.

That theme was also heard in Canada, where Murray Billett of Gay and Lesbian Awareness said as many as 80 percent of gay bashings go unreported, Canadian Press reported.

``Laramie, Wyoming, could have been small-town Alberta,″ Billett told a crowd of 200 people in Edmonton. ``It could have been Edmonton.″

In Portland, Maine, the Rev. Cindy Solomon of Metropolitan Community Church said their vigil was a time for silent mourning. But she urged people to end the silence today by calling legislators and writing letters to make sure civil rights for gays are protected.

Hundreds of people gathered at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, one of the nation’s largest gay churches, to pay tribute. Outside, a section of fence similar to the one Shepard was tied to by his attackers was covered with yellow ribbons.

Thousands gathered in an outdoor amphitheater in downtown Miami for a vigil after the second annual Miami Pride March and PrideFest.

Those at a service in Chicago said current hate crime laws don’t go far enough.

``We need a change of heart, and we need a change of spirit within our community so that these types of incidents won’t be tolerated,″ said Larry McKeon, an openly gay state representative.

Pastor Paul Graetz told a gathering in Minneapolis that the occasion should serve as a touchstone.

``It should be the remembrance of this evening that stirs us to say: This is the beginning of the end,″ he said. ``No more. No more. No more.″

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