A new federal law that will grant protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the United States is to be named after the murdered gay teenager who brought the issue of hate crimes into the American consciousness.

Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead, tied to a fence in freezing Wyoming in 1998.

He was the victim of a hate crime, targeted because he was gay, and his story has inspired Senators from both sides to try to bring forward new laws.

The Democrat seizure of power in Washington in January means that the hate crime legislation now has a better chance of passing than when it was first proposed by President Clinton to a hostile Republican Congress in 1999.

Attempts to reintroduce the legislation failed the next year.

The new law will extend protections on the grounds of race or religion extended to cover LGBT people.

“I can’t think of a better way to honour Matthew’s memory. He was a 21-year-old college student just living his life,” said Shepard’s mother Judy Shepard, who now runs a foundation named after her son which campaigns on gay issues.

Matthew’s parents were both present when The Matthew Shepard Act was introduced as bipartisan legislation at Congress yesterday.

Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon is co-sponsoring the bill with Senator Edward Kennedy from Massachusetts.