Over 150 Penn students rallied to express disgust at the savage murder of a gay college student. Although none of them knew Matthew Shepard, something about the way he died struck a chord with the hundreds of students who gathered for a vigil in his honor last night on College Green. In a ceremony that was rife with anger, sadness and fear, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance held a candlelight vigil to remember Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was found beaten and pistol whipped outside Laramie, Wyo., last week. Although police say the main motive behind the crime was robbery, the two perpetrators allegedly targeted Shepard because he flirted with one of them in a bar. On Monday, Shepard died in a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital. Many students at the event said they were surprised and disturbed by the savage nature of the crime, with several saying the attack forced them to worry about the safety of gay students, both at Penn and across the country. "It hits me in the sense that I have fear now," said third-year Medical student Chris Nguyen, who is gay. "It brings an element of fear that I thought I had exorcised." Other students stressed the fact that Penn is not safe from gay-bashing. "I have sat at gay coffeehouses and had epithets hurled at me from passersby," said second-year MBA student Mark Kehoe, a member of Wharton Out for Business, a club which aims to spread awareness about homosexuality. "The three places I have lived, I can recall hate crimes and acts of violence." Shepard's death has spurred a national debate over the issue of hate-crime legislation. Earlier this week, President Clinton came out in favor of such a law, saying that "Congress needs to pass our tough hate-crimes legislation." Current federal laws do not call for added penalties for the perpetrators of attacks based on the victim's sexual-orientation. Penn students at the event were divided over the need for such legislation. "I think for any discrimination there should be hate crime legislation," College and Wharton junior Michael Rogan said. "It prevents people from venting their prejudices." But others disagreed, saying assaults and other crimes are already illegal. "Crime is crime whether it's hate or not," Wharton sophomore Peter Margetis said. "I don't think we need separate legislation for it." The vigil began with several speakers, including City Councilman Angel Ortiz, Bob Schoenberg, the director of Penn's Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Center and Penn Director of Police Operations Maureen Rush. An open-mic speak-out followed the speeches. During his speech, Ortiz discussed the struggles to pass domestic-partnership laws in Philadelphia, and the necessity of passing hate-crime legislation. Last spring, after a decade of debate, City Council passed legislation extending benefits to allow gay partners to enjoy certain city benefits. It was passed over the objection of religious leaders. Ortiz encouraged the crowd to channel their reactions to Shepard's death into a refusal to accept hate crimes. "Do not react," he exhorted the crowd. "Get angry and say 'No More'." In addition, Rush gave a speech encouraging students to contact the police whenever incidents such as hate crimes occur.Comments powered by Disqus
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