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Remembering Matthew Shepard on the 12-Year Observance of his Death

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In the midst of many headlines surrounding the LGBT community in the past few months, it is also important to reflect on the major incidents that shaped our reactions to events today. This morning marked the 12-year observance of the death of Matthew Shepard, an unintended icon in the movement for equality.

Matthew was a typical 21-year-old college student from Laramie, Wyoming, studying political science and participating in numerous extracurricular activities, but his name is now synonymous with LGBT acceptance and anti-violence. At about midnight on October 6, 1998, Matthew was brutally beaten and tortured by two men he met at a bar, and left tied to a fence, where he was not found until 18 hours later. He died shortly after midnight on October 12 as a result of his injuries, and now represents the ideals that LGBT and human rights activists strive towards.

Metro Weekly published a piece in memory of the tragedy, highlighting media coverage of Matthew’s death and exploring how the nation’s attitudes have changed since then. Columnist Chris Geidner writes that there are many messages from twelve years ago that would still resonate “if people -- including those in government -- look back and listen.” Quoting activist Susan Childs shortly after Matthew’s death, he continues, “This is a prime opportunity to do something.” The San Diego Gay and Lesbian News also published a reflective piece, and reports that citizens in the area plan to commemorate Matthew’s memory with a candlelight procession and rally tonight. Finally, the Windy City Times reported on an event in Chicago celebrating Matthew’s life, and Pennsylvania State University hosted the Tectonic Theatre Project’s “The Laramie Project,” a theatrical depiction of Matthew’s experience that continues to inspire people around the nation.

Judy Shepard is Matthew’s mother, and has become an unequivocal voice in the LGBT movement since her son’s death. Her activism led to the creation of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which works to eliminate hate in all its forms. She was also instrumental in the passage of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act last year, which included the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hate crimes. Judy issued a statement at the end of September on behalf of the Foundation, expressing sympathy for the anti-LGBT bullying and suicide victims and endorsing the Trevor Project. Metro Weekly also reports that she was recognized for her work at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner on Saturday night, where she met the mother of Justin Aaberg.

GLAAD urges everyone to take a moment today to reflect on the memory of Matthew Shepard.