On October 6, 1998, a young Wyoming gay man was nearly beaten to death, strung up to a fence, and left to die in sub-frozen temperatures—all because he was homosexual and the victim of an anti-gay hate crime. Six days later, Matthew Shepard died due to the injuries he suffered after laying in a coma. The events of his death shocked the world and rocked the United States into the admission that it had a rampant homophobia problem. Fortunately, this heinous murder of Matthew Shepard and act of hate triggered a re-awakening of the gay rights movement and helped propel it to what it is today.
Only in death did Matthew Shepard become a martyr and the symbol of the bigotry and oppression often felt by LGBT people, especially in rural America. The senseless act of deliberately luring in a gay man, kidnapping him, torturing him, and then leaving him left to die remarkably put a face on the assault against gay rights in every American’s living room. Two decades later, the murder of Matthew Shepard still stirs emotions in the gay community.
A college student, he was known by some close friends and family as being out and gay. He studied political science, German, Italian, and theatre at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. On October 6, 1998, he was kidnapped, tortured, and left for dead: He was 21 years old and died 6 days later of his injuries. Fortunately, Matthew Shepard did not die in vain. October 12, 2018, marks the 20th anniversary of Shepard’s death.
Upon losing their only son, Dennis and Judy Shepard started the Matthew Shepard Foundation. This organization works tirelessly to spread positive propaganda for lgbt people and to work to squash homophobia and bigotry across North America. The Matthew Shepard Foundation works to erase hate and “empowers individuals to embrace human dignity and diversity through outreach advocacy, and recourse programs striving to replace hate with understanding, compassion, and acceptance”.
For 20 years now, this organization has been doing what they can to spread awareness and understanding towards the gay community. Before the death of Matthew Shepard, the term ‘hate crimes’ was only just being associated with crimes against LGBT people out of hatred. In 2009, the foundation worked together with the Obama Administration to pass the Mathew Shephard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, extending the definition of hate crimes to include LGBT people.
But now, in its 20th anniversary year, the Mathew Shepard Foundation has been cut off from receiving any federal funding by the Trump administration. Now, more than ever, organizations like the Matthew Shepard Foundation are vital in helping champion the lives and causes of the queer community. An organization that has helped bring about so much love and compassion needs our help. And now maybe more important of a time than ever before.
As the tax year draws to a close, consider donating and contributing to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. What better way to honor a true martyr of the gay (LGBT) movement than to help one of the few organizations out there doing actual real work to make this world a better place for LGBT people.