She had always said no.

Time after time, when asked by her mom if she was a lesbian, Tiffany Bundy denied it.

But today was different. Caught by her mother looking at books about gay men and lesbian woman, the 16-year-old couldn't lie.

"I wanted to wait until it was the right moment," said Bundy, now 18. "I think I caught her off guard."

Bundy was lucky.

Her mother didn't scream. She didn't get angry or try to deny it. Bundy said her mother quickly accepted it and probably knew the truth even before she was told.

Time has changed the way society views gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, she said.

And, at least to some extent, Teena Brandon's death contributed to that, Bundy said.

Much has been written and said about Brandon's sexual orientation and what role it played in the triple murder in a farmhouse near Humboldt in 1993.

Was Brandon killed for dressing like a man?Or for deceiving John Lotter and Tom Nissen?

Ten years after the murders, the question remains unanswered, but one fact has become certain: Brandon's death gave rise to a first-ever national transgendered movement.

When the killers went on trial in Falls City, transgendered people from across the country came to march outside the courthouse. It was considered the first demonstration of its kind.

Because of her appearance, the death of Brandon, who lived in Falls City as a man, had an impact on transgendered people, said David Buckel, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"He became an icon to thousands and thousands of young people across the country, many of whom thought they were all alone but no longer felt so alone or hopeless once they came to know the Brandon Teena story," he said.

Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group, joined similar groups in supporting Brandon's mother, JoAnn, when she sued Richardson County in 2000 for failing to protect her daughter.

JoAnn Brandon eventually won a $98,000 claim against the county. Buckel said the amount should have been higher.

At the time of the killings, the issue of sexual identity was hotly debated across the country and in Nebraska.

President Clinton had just issued his now famous "don't ask, don't tell" policy, barring the military from asking recruits about their sexual orientation.

In April 1993, Jeff Gorder of Lincoln found himself at the center of a national debate over gays in the military when the Nebraska Army National Guard discharged him after it learned he was gay.

In August 1993, two Kansas men were arrested on suspicion of murdering and beating gay men in Kansas and Nebraska, including a man from Lincoln and one from Omaha. The attacks elicited numerous reports of gay men being beaten and robbed as they left Omaha and Lincoln nightclubs.

Then came the Humboldt murders.

"It was an incredibly important case, not only within the state but nationally, because it had to do with making sure law enforcement officials are respectful to victims of violence," Buckel said.

And it spawned the award-winning movie "Boys Don't Cry," which earned actress Hillary Swank an Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon.

Filmmakers Greta Olafsdottir and Susan Muska also explored the events leading up to the murders in their 1998 documentary "The Brandon Teena Story."

"(We) don't think that that had to happen for more awareness, sensitivity and recognition to take place," the two women wrote in an e-mail interview with the Lincoln Journal Star. "It's just a big tragedy for all it affected."

The murders put Nebraska in the national spotlight.

Keeley Dunn, a 17-year-old Lincoln High student, said they weren't necessarily symptomatic of a general intolerance for gay and transgendered people in Nebraska.

"I think this could have happened anywhere," said Dunn, who is a member of Lincoln High's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transsexual Student Association even though she isn't gay herself.

Molly Pearson, 16, first learned of Brandon when she saw "Boys Don't Cry" with her transsexual parent. She belongs to the Lincoln High association for the support it offers her.

Sometimes, as she walks the halls of Lincoln High, Tiffany Bundy is mistaken for a boy. Other times, she is laughed at and called names.

"It's extremely scary," she said. "From that viewpoint, I have an understanding of what Brandon went through."

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 473-7237 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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