During yesterday's debate on a hate crimes bill that passed the House, U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said the murder of the bill's namesake, Matthew Shepard, was "a hoax" used to advance legislation. The Matthew Shepard bill, named after the gay 21-year old student who was beaten to death in Laramie, Wy., would provide new federal protections to victims of crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
NBC-17 reports that Foxx said on the House floor:
"We know that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn't because he was gay," Foxx said during debate. "The bill was named for him, the hate-crimes bill was named for him, but it's really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills."
In 1998, Shepard was found unconscious and tied to a fence, and died five days later of head trauma, after being beaten by two men who lured Shepard out of a Laramie bar and, police say, pretended to be gay. One man, Russell Henderson, pled guilty to murder and kidnapping, while a second defendant was convicted of second-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping. Aaron McKinney, who pled not guilty, had originally sought to use a "gay panic" defense, saying that Shepard's advances drove him to murder, which the judge rejected. In an attempt to establish intent, prosecutors argued that McKinney had conspired to murder Shepard, after robbing him of $20. The jury did not recognize the robbery as an explanation for premeditated murder. In announcing Henderson's conviction, the judge said the murder was ''part because of his life style, part for a $20 robbery.''
The News & Observer reports that Foxx's statement, which she has since said was "a mistake based on what I believed were reliable accounts," was offensive to "gay rights activists." But, really, it's offensive to anyone, of any sexual orientation, who understands the basic facts of the case.
Update: Over at Dependable Erection, Barry Ragin has has a slightly more concise analysis of Foxx's statement.