Matthew Shepard died on October 12, 1998, five days after being brutally attacked in one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history. Matthew’s death changed the way people viewed and talked about LGBT people, and eventually led to the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law against bias-motivated crimes targeting LGBT people, among others.
GLAAD was on the ground in Laramie, Wyoming, shortly after the attack. Former National News Media Director Cathy Renna wrote in 2010:
It is impossible to document all the work GLAAD did related to Matt’s murder, but some of the most important pieces still resonate today. Whether is was working with the students to tell their stories and talk to the media in a safe and comfortable way, being a key resource to journalists and putting Matt’s death in context, working with local communities around the country to help them get media coverage of how hates crimes have affected their communities, being an integral part of the Laramie Project’s success and working with Matthew’s amazing family, who have continued his legacy through the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation are just some.
Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, who has since become a staunch advocate for the lives of LGBT people, wrote last year about what she learned in the days following her son’s death:
We learned about the LGBT community and its long struggle for acceptance and equality. We learned how easily LGBT people could be fired from their jobs just for being themselves, how they couldn't serve their country openly, couldn't marry, couldn't adopt kids in some states. And most of all, we learned about the fear so many otherwise good people had in their hearts about their gay neighbors, coworkers and family members.
She went on to say that her family “decided to try to make a difference in his name.” The Matthew Shepard Foundation was created to stand up for the LGBT community in Matthew’s memory.
Fourteen years after his death, GLAAD remembers Matthew Shepard.