Matthew Shepard's family bringing powerful story to Russia

15 years ago, the story of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man brutally beaten and left to die because of who he was, changed the way Americans talked about the LGBT community. The story brought to the light the violence that many in the LGBT community faced. It began a dialogue about hate crimes and intolerance against the LGBT community which continues to this day.

After losing their son, Matthew's parents, Judy and Dennis, turned their grief into action and became leading advocates for LGBT rights. Determined to prevent others from suffering their son’s fate, Judy and her husband Dennis founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and continues to tell the story of Matthew and the family’s response to his tragic murder.

Now the Shepard family is bringing their story to Russia in a powerful new documentary film, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine is an honest portrait of Matt’s life and legacy. It is a story of love, loss, and courage. The documentary follows director Michele Josue, a close friend of Matt's, as she travels to important locations in Matthew’s life, interviewing other friends and family members, and gaining insight into the beautiful life and devastating loss.

The film is going to be a part of the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Festival aims to create a cultural dialogue and sparkling a societal change. It seeks to establish a supportive environment where LGBT people are able to affirm and extend their identities. Last year, GLAAD worked with the Side by Side LGBT festival to bring Dustin Lance Black, Bruce Cohen, and Gus Van Sant and their film, MILK, to the festival.

"While there has been undeniable social and legislative progress here in the United States in the years since Matt’s death, it often seems in other parts of the world, like Russia, that the situation has gotten worse for the LGBT community," said filmmaker Michele Josue. "I, along with so many others around the world, am inspired by the strength and courage of the Side by Side organizers and the Russian LGBT community in the face of such oppressive homophobia. I hope our film, as an honest and sensitive portrait of Matt’s life and legacy, can be a source of hope and courage for your community." 

Conditions in Russia are difficult for LGBT people and their supporters. Due to the country's anti-propaganda law, the festival has come under significant scrutiny. Last year, it endured five bomb threats, which sent the attendees into a hostile crowd outside. Those under 18 years old aren't allowed.

Additionally, LGBT people in Russia face high levels of violence and oppression. Gangs have targeted LGBT people, tortured them, and posted video of the torture. When people come out, they often lose their job and their family, as happened to Anton Krasovsky and Oleg Dusaev.

Judy and Dennis have been brave in sharing their family's story in the US, and that bravery continues in Russia. We hope that the message of the film, plus the heart-wrenching personal story of the Shepards will be able to reach hearts and minds.

To see more about the lives of LGBT people in Russia, visit  

This post was written with the assistance of International News Intern Michaela Krejocova.