NASHVILLE - The father of a young gay college student, whose 1998 murder in Wyoming spurred national discussion about hate crimes, said today that Tennessee and several other states have "become a bully pulpit in more ways than one."
Dennis Shepard, who son was killed in Wyoming due to, according to court testimony, his sexual orientation, said two pending bills dealing with gay issues "disturb me" and he urged state lawmakers to work instead "toward an all-inclusive law toward hate crimes."
Shepard's comments came at a news conference at Legislative Plaza where he spoke out specifically against a bill that seeks to create a religious exemption in the state's anti-school bullying law and another measure known as the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill. The amended bill says teachers can only discuss "natural reproduction" with students in grades K-8.
On another front, Shepard was critical of recent remarks made by Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, who has introduced legislation barring transgender persons from using public restrooms and store dressing rooms if they do not fit the gender listed on their original birth certificate.
Floyd created a stir when he told the Times Free Press earlier this month that "I believe if I was standing at a dressing room and my wife or one of my daughters was in the dressing room and a man tried to go in there - I don't care if he thinks he's a woman and tries on clothes with them in there - I'd just try to stomp a mudhole in him and then stomp him dry."
Shepard said the various bills and talk "about stomping transgender and other gays. That does encourage it [harassment]. What it does is say nobody's going to do anything. And as I mentioned ... it creates a policy of it's open season. I can do whatever. And that's what happened to Matt."
Earlier, Floyd said he's received any number of threatening emails and phone calls - as well as expressions of support - in the wake of his comments.
"They get upset about somebody else, but the emails and phone calls I've got with the verbiage and the violent threats and even worse, if anybody threatened them with that kind of violence, you want to talk about violence, evidently they support violence."
He said "the word 'stomp' is very mild compared to what I heard. I guess it's the pot calling the kettle black."
Floyd said "this is America. They have every right in the world to do whatever they want to do as long as they don't threaten anyone else ... That's their perfect right."
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, originally sponsored the Senate version of the bill at Floyd's request. After Floyd's remarks, Watson yanked the bill. Floyd said he has been unable to find another Senate sponsor.