Matthew Shepard - Ten Years Later

His story is one that is often told and one that should always be remembered.

It was shortly after midnight on Oct. 7, 1998, when 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, an openly gay University of Wyoming student, was tied to a split-rail fence in Laramie, Wyoming and left for dead in the cold of night.  He was found almost 18 hours later by a cyclist who initially mistook him for a scarecrow.

Six days after being discovered, Matthew died from his wounds.

According to a coroner at the trial of his attackers, he "was hit at least 20 times by blows so hard they fractured his skull six times[.]"  The damage was so disturbing that jurors, "winced as they viewed graphic photos of [his] bloodied face[.]"

The brutal murder of Matthew Shepard shocked the nation and in the ten years since has become one of the most covered and discussed anti-gay hate crimes in American history. 

Matthew's mother, Judy Shepard, has devoted this last decade to sharing her son's story and helping to change hearts and minds across the world. She established the Matthew Shepard Foundation with the goal to "erase hate" and make sure what happened to her son doesn't continue to happen to others. 

According to a USA Today profile on Judy from this past March:

In the past decade she has traveled tens of thousands of miles, slept in more hotel beds than she cares to remember and has given thousands of speeches to more than a million people.

10 years later, however, hate violence is still a pervasive problem.  Just from 2006 to 2007, the total number of victims reporting anti-LGBT violence increased by 24 percent, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP).  The number of anti-LGBT murders also doubled during that time period - only five murders less than the year Matthew Shepard lost his life to anti-LGBT violence.

Even with the progress made by the LGBT movement over the past decade, hate crimes continue to happen and yet sexual orientation and gender identity are still not included in any federal hate crimes legislation. 

Yes, there is still a long way to go:

Shepard also points out what has and what hasn't changed in the 10 years since her son was murdered.

What hasn't is that hate crimes continue. She mentions the recent murder of Lawrence King, a gay 15-year-old junior high student in Oxnard, Calif., who was shot to death by a fellow student.

"This terrible incident underscores the fact that we cannot let hate go unchecked in our schools and communities," Shepard says. "Our young people need our direction and guidance to prevent this type of crime from happening."

After Matthew Shepard's attack, GLAAD went to Laramie to help manage media coverage and assist in organizing student and community press conferences.  By channeling the community's collective grief into action, Matt was not treated as another statistic, but as a life lost too soon - bringing new visibility to the role of hate violence and opening up conversations around the country.

At the 19th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, we presented the Excellence in Media Award to Judy Shepard for the work she has done to promote full equality for the LGBT community through the Matthew Shepard Foundation.  The Excellence in Media Award is presented to individuals who, through their work, have increased the visibility and understanding of the LGBT community in the media.

"When they asked me to receive this award I laughed," Shepard said in her acceptance speech which you can watch below.  "I'm just a mom who does what a mom does when something really means a lot to them.  They try to engage their friends and their community and everyone in the same fight.  That's what I did.  I appreciate this award so much...[but] I'm no different than anyone else here tonight, or out there in the world, trying to make a difference."
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By looking back on Matthew Shepard's death and the countless other tragic incidents that occur every year due to anti-LGBT crimes, the media can play a vital role in determining community and law enforcement response to hate-motivated attacks - from local and state hate crimes legislation to the Matthew Shepard Act and beyond.   

This week glaadBLOG will remember Matthew Shepard and his story by highlighting other stories the media continue to overlook, giving a deeper perspective on stories the media have only briefly discussed, and showing you some of the work GLAAD continues to do to help bring visibility to the many affected by anti-LGBT hate crimes every day.