As a 21-year-old college student from Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew Shepard was just entering adulthood when his life was taken from him and his loved ones by a brutal anti-gay attack. Thirteen years ago today, Matthew died in a hospital surrounded by family members. This loss became a tragic reminder for the LGBT community of how powerful and destructive hate can be. Since that time, much has changed in the movement toward equality, and looking back, we are reminded of how far we have come and how much we have left to go.
Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother and an outspoken LGBT advocate, wrote an article in The Huffington Post reflecting on his life and legacy. Judy explains how, along with the terrible sadness it caused, the attack was the catalyst for an important, long-overdue national conversation. “In the painful months that followed Matt's death, we came to understand a lot of things we never knew before: about hate crimes, and how shockingly many there were every year; how they are characterized by obvious signs, like excessive violence, and the denial that surrounds them; and how hard they were to prove, and prosecute, and appropriately punish, with sensitivity to the victim's loved ones and the wider community…With the support and sympathy of the thousands who wrote us and the millions who were touched by his death, we decided to try to make a difference in his name.” As a co-founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an organization that stands up for the LGBT community and straight allies, Judy has seen her vision come to fruition.
Advocate and founder of QueerToday.com, Mark Daniel Snyder, shared his experience, saying, “It was only a few weeks prior to Matthew’s attack that I was contemplating suicide, having endured years of anti-gay bullying and torment.” Fortunately, Mark found support from his parents and was able to alter his situation, but his story reminds us that many suffering LGBT youth do not have such options. More than ever, they need the support of fellow LGBT-identified advocates and straight allies to know that they are loved and appreciated. They need protection, through laws like the federal hate crimes legislation (named for Matthew) and through education around bullying and acceptance. As Judy points out, “We all have a role to play. We all have our story to tell. When we all finally stand up and demand equality, the scourge of hatred will wither and disappear.”
GLAAD urges everyone to take a moment today to reflect on the memory of Matthew Shepard.