The father of a murdered University of Wyoming student said Wednesday that Tennessee’s legislators appear to be creating a policy of “open season” on homosexuals through bills introduced and comments made.
“These bills disturb me, just the fact that they’ve been brought to the forefront and there’s so much publicity about them,” Dennis Shepard said at a Legislative Plaza news conference.
He noted that two Middle Tennessee teenagers have committed suicide in recent weeks and that relatives believe they were the target of bullying because they were gay.
“I’m concerned about the kids,” Shepard said. “.We’ve lost two in the last 30 days. We’ll never know what those two young men could have done to help the city, the state and the country.”
Shepard’s son, Matthew, was tortured and killed in 1998 after being chosen as a victim because of his sexual orientation, according to his father and testimony at the trial of those accused in the slaying. Dennis Shepard and his wife have since set up a foundation, named after their son, that among other things promotes enactment of “hate crimes” legislation that covers attacks based on sexual orientation.
Shepard called for enactment of such legislation in Tennessee, or at least “baby steps” in that direction. He also criticized three bills that have drawn some attention this year and comments made by one of the sponsors.
One is measure proposed by Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, that would have created a misdemeanor crime of entering a restroom marked for persons of the opposite gender. The bill (HB2279) was drafted to assure that prosecutions would be based on the sex appearing on a person’s birth certificate, assuring that transgender persons could be prosecuted.
Floyd told media that, if encountering a person appearing male in a women’s room with a female relative, he would feel inclined to “stomp a mudhole in him.”
“The comment about stomping transgender people–that does encourage it (harassment),” Shepard said. “It creates a policy of it’s open season. ”
He said such attitudes were a factor in his son’s murder in a state with no hate crimes law where his killers “Who’s going to do anything? It’s just another gay.”
Floyd acknowledged his bill is dead for this year because Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, withdrew it from the Senate. But Floyd said he plans to push the legislation next year, perhaps after making some changes. He said many people have contacted him to express support for his bill and his statements and that he has no regrets for his comments.
Shepard also cited two other bills that are still pending, one labeled “don’t say gay” (SB49) by critics and the other called the “license to bully” bill (HB1153). One is designed to deter discussion of homosexuality until the ninth grade and the other would extempt statements made based on religious beliefs from the state’s anti-bullying law.