On October 6th, 1998, Laramie, Wyoming’s most infamous crime was committed. A young, gay man was beaten and left to die alone in the middle of a rural area.

This man was Matthew Shepard, and October 12th, 2018 will mark the 20 year anniversary of his death.

Laramie is nationally recognized because of this crime. Despite the tourism, University, and tight knit community, people know Laramie as the place where Matthew Shepard died.

The reasons behind Matthew Shepard’s murder are still disputed today.

Some argue that his death was a robbery gone wrong.

Others believe it was a hate crime. Regardless of the reason, Shepard was brutally beaten by two other men and left tied to a fence to die.

He passed away six days later at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Matthew Shepard was 21 years old.

The incident sparked, not only candlelight vigils around the world, but also protests from anti-LGBT organizations.

Even 20 years later, such protests and events are still inspired by his death. Each year mural walks and protests are organized, and the Shepard Symposium takes place.

The Symposium is the most well known event. It is a week long celebration of Shepard’s life and the lives of LGBT people today. Guest speakers attend, students present, new perspectives are provided, as well as education on LGBT issues.

The symposium is not all pro LGBT though; the Westboro Baptist Church usually makes an appearance as well. Both the supporters and the protesters have an impression on attending students.

“The positive influences at symposium last year were incredible. So many really kind and understanding people came to show support. But there were hateful people too. Westboro Baptist protestors came, and brought big signs showing their opposition to our very existence. It was sad to see, but the good parts definitely overshadowed the hatred.” student Danielle Besler said.

The symposium is about more than protest; it stands as a place where people can just be who they are with no pressure. It also shows that Laramie has more room for love and growth than hate and anger.

Additionally, it can serve as a support system for struggling people.

“Shepard Symposium is a great resource for LGBT students and allies. It’s a place to learn about anything and everything LGBT. There are tons of great resources,” Besler said.

There are always opportunities to make art with others, view pro LGBT movies, and meet new people. However, not all activities and resources present are so light hearted.

The symposium always finds ways to reach out and offer help. There is information about what students facing common issues, such as sexual assault and mental health problems, can do, and things can get intense.

“There were a couple speakers that brought tears to everyone’s eyes. People got the chance to share their stories – both good and bad. It was emotional, but it provides a new perspective on things,” Besler said.

The symposium itself doesn’t take place until April this year, but it always comes up around the anniversary of Shepard’s death as proof that Laramie still cares.