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Scarecrow Likeness of Matt Shepard Flaunted Atop Fraternity Float

Shows Battered Body Tied to a Fence Wearing an "I'm Gay" Sign

11 Fraternity and Sorority Members Under Investigation

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By Jack Nichols

Ft. Collins--Last Saturday members of Colorado State University fraternities and, reportedly, sororities rode atop a homecoming float featuring a scarecrow figure designed to resemble the battered body of Matthew Shepard tied to a fence post and wearing a sign that said, "I'm gay.'' On the back of the scarecrow's shirt appeared the words: "Up My Ass''.

The frats thought it was funny.

They were, according to local reports, just "another group of ordinary, average" students. They gave no thought to the fact that Shepard, a youth approximately their own age, lay dying in a hospital a few miles distant.

It was supposed to be a joke.

Students on campus expressed their dismay. The frat boys are "idiots," they said.

The Real Atrocity

top1012.gif - 16.01 KBut, according an opinion expressed in the Denver Post, the real atrocity is that in the face of such abysmal machismo, such ignorance, violence, hostility and unabashed bigotry, "there are still people living in Laramie, Fort Collins, Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs--everywhere across America --who will say that teaching understanding and tolerance of homosexuality in schools is what's really immoral."

Those who say this include the nation's many fundamentalist Christian groups, including D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries, James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Gary Bauer's Family Research Council, Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, Fred Phelps' "God Hates Fags" crusade, The Southern Baptist Convention and televangelist Jerry Falwell. These "religious" zealots have for many years been the principal purveyors of worldwide anti-gay propaganda.

University Investigations

Early next week Colorado State University will initiate disciplinary hearings against those believed to have taken part on the hate float. Seven members who traveled with the float have been suspended.

Pi Kappa Alpha and Alpha Chi Omega have issued statements of regret and of their intent to investigate the incident, calling the anti-gay graffiti "unauthorized vandalism and the work of a few individuals."

"Alpha Chi Omega will not tolerate this kind of conduct by any member," said Jan Crandall, national president. "We abhor discrimination and any actions that are insensitive to, or disrespectful of, others."

Responding to Evil

Hundreds of students and residents of Fort Collins walked in a candlelight vigil memorializing Shepard on the CSU campus Tuesday evening. Several asked that the university swiftly punish-- or even expel--those students responsible for the float.

Michele Faris, a University employee said: "Evil literally paraded itself through this community last Saturday. This was not a prank or a mistake or an error in judgment on the part of a few impulsive but otherwise decent kids. This was evil.''

Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a New York group dedicated to ending anti-gay bias in schools, said: "People would like to think that what happened to Matthew was an exception to the rule, but it was an extreme version of what happens in our schools on a daily basis."

U.S. Attorney General Adds Her Voice:

jreno.gif - 36.28 K Janet Reno U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno added her voice to demands for hate crime legislation while in New York hundreds demonstrated against the lack of such laws in the wake of Matthew Shepard's murder.

"Last week's tragic events in Laramie, Wyoming show once again that we must do more to fight hate crimes in America," Reno said in a statement that urged Congress to adopt this week a Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Why Hate Crime Legislation?

The proposed legilsation would amend federal laws to include crimes motivated by prejudice that is based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender and disability.

Christine Quinn, director of the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project said: "The murder of Matthew Shepard ... comes at the same time that we have been experiencing an 81 percent increase in anti-gay and lesbian attacks in New York City."

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