Members ofUNC's gay and lesbian support group, B-GLAD, say Shepard's death is another reason that violence against homosexuals should be a federal hate crime. They're collecting signatures on a petition calling for a change in the law and wearing black ribbons in Shepard's memory.
Students say UNC's campus is tolerant, but high school was a different story.
"I was called names, and I was harassed by administrators and teachers and students. I had stones thrown at me," explained student Sarah Levin-Richardson.
The North Carolina Lambda Youth Network is the only statewide leadership group in the country for gay youth.
"It's a very real possibility that something like this could hit close to home, and it has," said John Harrison of the Lambda Youth Network.
"At our organization, what we're able to do is not only provide them a safe space but in a safe space where they can do work in their community to improve their communities," explained Hez Norton of the Lambda Youth Network.
Gay students say they are concerned about violence but would rather educate others than live in fear.
"I think that being out may put you at a greater risk, but it's necessary if you want to change how people think," said student Ian Palmquist.
"In the end, what we're looking for is full equality and to be treated the same way that straight people are treated. It starts here," student Trey Harris said.
North Carolina's hate crime statute protects people who are the targets of threats or violence because of their race, religion or national origin.
Last year, theGeneral Assemblyconsidered amending the hate crime statute to include gender, disabilities and sexual orientation. The revision failed.