It was October 1998, and I was a junior at Natrona County High School in Casper, Wyo.
For a week our community was turned upside down when word broke that a former student from our school, then a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, had been brutally murdered. He had been beaten, tied to a split-rail fence, pistol-whipped and left to die in near freezing temperatures.
It was shocking, it was sickening, and it left people wondering why.
For six days I watched the news and prayed for his recovery, but on Oct. 12, 1998, Matthew Shepard's battered body finally gave out and he died. During that week, we discovered the reason that Matthew had been beaten and left to die: He was gay.
Matthew's brutal murder had a chilling effect on everyone, but it struck especially close for some of us. Our bewilderment and sadness turned to pure disgust when an out-of-state minister showed up at Matthew's funeral to scream hateful messages.
How could someone hate this kid enough to kill him or to protest his funeral and shout such repulsive messages to family and friends, just for being who he was? Wyoming was better than this. Surely the world was better than this?
Matthew was the victim of this crime, but because this type of ugly hatred reared its head in our community, many of us were left with emotional scars and memories that will haunt us forever.
It has been 10 years since Matthew was killed. I moved to Salt Lake City, bought a home and graduated from the University of Utah. Yet, as I compare the world then to the world now, it saddens me to realize that so little has changed.
Today, we see little alarm or public outpouring to stop this type of bias-motivated crime; often these crimes get no more attention than a minute on the local evening news. Have we grown immune in the 10 years since Matthew was killed?
Anti-gay and anti-transgender hate crimes are still pervasive in our country: On Feb. 12, a 15-year-old boy in Oxnard, Calif., Lawrence "Larry" King, admitted to classmates that he had an innocent Valentine crush on a male classmate. The next day, the boy Larry had mentioned came to school and shot Larry in the back of the head. Larry was killed because he was gay.
In July 18-year-old Angie Zapata returned to her home in Greeley, Colo., to find a man she had previously dated waiting for her. According to that man's story, he became enraged when he found out Angie was transgender and beat her to death with a fire extinguisher. In September, police reported that the murderer said, "All gay things should die."
And we are not immune in Utah: In August, 18-year-old Carlos Lopez was beaten severely by a gang of men after admitting he was gay. The beating was so severe that Carlos had to get reconstructive surgery on his face.
It was wrong for Matthew to be so brutally murdered, and it is worse that we haven't learned from the past, and kids like Larry, Angie and Carlos are still subject to this type of crime today.
In 1998, when Matthew was killed, President Clinton and congressional leaders called for a federal hate-crimes bill. This type of common-sense measure is supported by a vast majority of Utahns and Americans, yet 10 years later there are no federal protections against hate crimes. As a country we have failed Larry, Angie and Carlos.
We cannot continue to fail these young people. We all deserve to feel safe and secure in our community. No longer should gay kids be forced to ask themselves the questions that I asked because Matthew was killed, "Is this what will happen to me, because I'm gay?" Ten years later, it is time: Congress must pass the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Act.
* MILTON MONSON is a Utah resident and attended the same Wyoming high school as Matthew Shepard.