Guest Post: Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine

When I think about my friend Matt Shepard, I’m often surprised to realize how many years have passed since his horrific murder. It was a devastating loss that still, all these years later, feels so fresh and raw in my mind.

Seventeen years ago, on the night of October 6, 1998, two young men robbed, kidnapped, and tortured a young man named Matthew Shepard simply because he was gay. They drove him to a field on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, tied him to a fence, and left him to die. Matt, a dear friend of mine from high school, clung to life for five days before he succumbed to the injuries from the attack and died on October 12, 1998.

Matt’s horrific murder was the first time I was confronted by how cruel the world could be, and his death opened my eyes and the world’s to a vicious reality of hatred and inequality the LGBT community faces every day. Matt’s death and the way he died marked me very deeply.

I was a 19-year-old film student at the time, and when Matt died, I made a promise to myself that, when I was ready, I would help the world get to know Matt not just as a victim, but as a human being with friends and family who loved and supported him. Through film, I wanted the world to reconnect with Matt in a more human way. I wanted them to see the Matt I knew – Matt as a person, not as a symbol; the Matt who was just like you and just like me.

Twelve years later, I finally felt ready to begin. In the fall of 2010, I set off with a small team to make Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, a film that we hoped would recapture the Matt the world barely knew.

With the support of the Shepards, we have brought the film to festivals, organizations, communities big and small, schools and universities, and the U.S. Department of State. Last year, GLAAD helped the Shepard family and I bring the Matt’s story all the way to Russia! Since Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine premiered, I have seen the Matt I knew live on through the audiences that learn about his story, his friends, and the tireless work his parents do in his name at the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine has helped people re-engage with and understand Matt’s important story and contributed to a dialogue about love and acceptance that I believe has the power to create a more compassionate society. With the film’s digital release tomorrow, we are so grateful to have the opportunity to share Matt’s story with our biggest audience yet.

As a filmmaker, I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to tell Matt’s story in the honest, sensitive, and dignified way it deserves to be told. As Matt’s friend, I am forever grateful to have this opportunity to commemorate the love we have for Matt, as well as the pain we carry from losing him.

Though it’s always difficult, I’m so proud to stand up for Matt and to help contribute to his tremendous legacy in some small way. Sharing Matt’s story, alongside friends, countless supporters, allies and advocates like GLAAD, and most of all, his parents Judy and Dennis Shepard has easily been the biggest honor of my entire life.

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