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College marks anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death with vigil

President Leo I. Higdon Jr. speaks at the 2009 vigil for Matthew Shepard
President Leo I. Higdon Jr. speaks at the 2009 vigil for Matthew Shepard

On Oct. 12, 1998, University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard died of injuries he received in a beating inflicted by two men, allegedly because Shepard was gay. His death sparked widespread outrage, increased attention on hate crime legislation, and led to much-needed public discourse about equality and other issues related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) community.

For years, the Connecticut College community has marked the anniversary of Shepard's death with a public vigil. This year the vigil is Wednesday, Oct. 12, from 8 to 9:30 p.m. at the Ad Astra Garden on Tempel Green.

"We hope to raise awareness about violence and hatred towards LGBTQ people and inspire people to actively work to create change," said Kristen McAleenan '13, one of the student coordinators of the event, which is hosted by Connecticut College.

McAleenan and her fellow coordinators - juniors Meghan Rossini, Brittany Armstrong and Andrew Sowle - have scheduled a program featuring speakers and song. Spectrum will provide candles and song lyrics; attendees are asked only to "bring their friends," McAleenan said.

Jen Manion, assistant professor of history and director of Connecticut College's LGBTQ Resource Center, said, "The threat of violence is something that LGBTQ people live with on a daily basis. The vigil stands as a powerful reminder not only of the lives lost but also of the antagonisms, threats and hate-filled rhetoric that still plague our communities."

Added Mab Segrest, the Fuller-Maathai Professor of Gender and Women's Studies, "This occasion is an opportunity to also remember all the queer youth, many of them transgender - and many people of color - who experience daily harassment that can drive them to suicide. Like the violence perpetrated against Matthew Shepard, these acts of hate and violence can also have deadly effects."

The event is open to the public.

October 7, 2011