Dennis and Judy Shepard have family in Alaska, but that's not what brought them to Anchorage over the weekend.

The Shepards spoke at the Hate Crimes Forum on Saturday at the Z.J. Loussac Library. They pushed for Alaska to do more so other families don't experience the grief they did.

On Oct. 7, 1998, their son Matthew was attacked by two men in Laramie, Wyoming where he attended college. Matthew was targeted because he was gay. His attackers beat him and left him tied to a fence, and he died of his injuries five days later.

Matthew's death led to the creation of the hate crimes law that bears his name — The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The act expanded on federal hate crime laws to include crimes based on perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and religion.


Judy and Dennis Shepard at the Z.J. Loussac Library Saturday, Sept. 21 for the Anchorage Hate Crimes Forum. (Dave Leval/KTVA)

Alaska is one of 15 states that does not have hate crime laws that cover sexual orientation or gender identity — the Shepards want one.

"If we don't have equal opportunity and we don't have hate crime laws to protect these kids, there's a brain drain," Dennis Shepard said. "And we can't afford the brain drain because there's nobody to replace them."

Judy Shepard emphasized the need to report hate crimes to know what is happening.

"Data's critical to know what the problem is and where it is. If we don't have the data, we don't know where to help," Judy Shepard said. "Many states don't have hate crime laws to protect the gay community, for example. So the reporting is critical for everybody, we should be including all the marginalized classes."

The most recent data from the FBI found only one reported hate crime in Anchorage in 2017. There were no reports of crimes motivated by religion, gender bias or sexual orientation.

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