Greasing the Wheel: How the Criminal Justice System Hurts Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered People and Why Hate Crime Laws Won’t Save Them


On a cold night in October 1998, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney allegedly beat Matthew Shepard, a young, gay, white college student. Shepard subsequently died from his injuries. When prosecutors announced that they would seek the death penalty against Henderson and McKinney, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community divided. Numerous GLBT individuals and organizations supported executing Henderson and McKinney. They suggested that only by putting Henderson and McKinney to death would Shepard’s life as a gay man be recognized as valued. Other GLBT individuals and organizations were more reserved, arguing that the death penalty is not a “gay issue,” and thus deferring to the prosecutor’s judgment. Still other GLBT individuals and organizations voiced a firm stance not only against the death penalty for Henderson and McKinney but against- the death penalty more generally, including eleven prominent GLBT organizations that released a joint statement against the death penalty. In a survey conducted by a gay community web site, those surveyed were evenly divided over whether the death penalty was ever an appropriate punishment for a crime. Responses were similarly split regarding whether the death penalty was appropriate in the specific cases of McKinney and Henderson.

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