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In Memoriam

For Matthew Shepard and countless others… the work to erase hate continues

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2010 on the twelfth anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.

Matthew was brutally attacked on the night of October 6, 1998, then tied to a fence and left to die. Matthew was targeted because he was gay.

Matthew spent five days in a coma while the world held vigil. And on this day, at 12:53 a.m., 13 years ago, Matthew died.

Matthew’s death and the subsequent trial and convictions of his attackers incited demonstrations and debates over gay rights, and sparked renewed efforts to pass federal hate crimes legislation that included sexual orientation and gender identity. For many, however, it revealed the dangers of being gay in America, and for many LGBTQ people, it reaffirmed the risk they live with every day.

This photo is of Matthew, playing in the sand in the Saudi Arabian desert.
Family photo, courtesy of Judy Shepard.

Matthew Shepard was brutally assaulted on a lonely ridge overlooking Laramie, Wyoming thirteen years ago this month. And on this day in 1998, Matthew died while in a coma in a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital with his family by his side.

Much has changed. Much has not.

His hate crime murder has set the pattern by which all LGBTQ hate crimes murder victims are remembered, both for good and ill.

Good, in that many American’s are more keenly aware of the problem of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and the issues surrounding the struggle for human rights equality because of his death.

Millions of people around the world came to know about other hate crimes murder victims through the lens of Matthew’s story. His family foundation, The Matthew Shepard Foundation, has done untold good advocating for justice, equality and the embrace of diversity in American life.

His mother, Judy Shepard, has become one of the most visible and effective spokespeople for human rights in our time–a true conscience for the nation. It is no mistake that the long-awaited federal hate crimes law, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, is named in honor of Matthew, largely through the dogged persistence of this estimable woman who will not take “no” for an answer.

It was a proud day for all of us when President Obama signed the bill protecting LGBTQ Americans from bias-motivated crimes last October, inclusive of transgender people and disabled persons, as well.

But there is a downside to the way Matthew Shepard’s story is remembered in this country as well, one neither he nor his family are guilty of — and one we must all act to redress.

The story of Matthew Shepard has tended to overshadow the remembrance of any other LGBTQ hate crimes victim, especially if that person was non-white, older and therefore less attractive, disabled somehow, or feminine in gender presentation.

This has been true of the many gender variant youth of color who have died in staggering numbers as the 21st century has dawned.

In the case of 15-year-old Sakia LaTona Gunn, an African American lesbian murdered at a bus stop in Newark, New Jersey, relatively few media stories on her outrageous murder broke into the national press compared to the thousands that flooded the channels when Matt died.

Much ink has been spilled over why this was so, but in order to honor Matthew, we must demand that ALL LGBTQ stories are told with the passion and respect his has been.

Judy Shepard

Finally, following Judy Shepard’s example, we must use this anniversary to cry out for Safe Schools for all children.

As she wrote on the Matthew Shepard Foundation blog in early October:

“Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way. We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect.

Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay.

There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.”

In October 2008, I spoke at “Hope Not Hate,” an anniversary service for the city of Austin, Texas, commemorating the deaths of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., both unwitting martyrs to the cause of true equality in American life.

I said at that time, in part, “We who believe in justice cannot rest! We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes! When a mother like Judy Shepard challenges us to send a different message to America than the one delivered by the men who killed her son, we must embrace that memory with all its pain, and break out of defeat into action.”

I believe more fervently in the work of erasing hatred today than ever.

Rest in Peace, Matthew, Sakia, and all our sisters and brothers.

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Filed under: Views & Voices

50 more reader comments:

  1. RIP

    Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 11:57pm
  2. Rest in peace…

    Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 11:57pm
  3. omg I remember his story and the movie they did on him…

    Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 11:58pm
  4. i send my blessing’s and prayer’s'… too’… you and everyone around you ‘.. care for and about each other we are human,.. being’s ,… ditto’..

    Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 11:58pm
  5. :(

    Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 11:58pm
  6. we should make it a TT on twitter

    Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 11:58pm
  7. Rest in peace Matthew

    Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 11:59pm
  8. Rest in power Matthew Shepard.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:00am
  9. may he rest in peace he will never be forgotten

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:01am
  10. RIP Matthew!!

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:02am
  11. RIP, Matthew! You are not forgotten!

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:03am
  12. you are forever remembered!

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:04am
  13. RIP Matthew<3 You’re never forgotten & always in our hearts.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:08am
  14. It was 13 years ago..May we remember this day forever so that it never happens twice in a lifetime. RIP Sir Shepard you are a beacon of hope to the world.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:13am
  15. never forget we love u

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:15am
  16. Editor’s Note: Matthew’s death was 13 years ago. This article was first published last year, hence the reference to 12 years in the tag line above.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:17am
  17. Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:18am
  18. Hard to believe it’s been that long. Some things have improved since then, but the bullying of youth’s continues, no matter the gender, or for the reasons. May Matthew ‘s spirit continue to inspire those whom see change in actions and deeds to help others live their lives well, safely and in peace.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:18am
  19. RIP Mathew :(

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:22am
  20. RIP Matthew

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:23am
  21. <3

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:23am
  22. RIP Matt Shepard. :(

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:23am
  23. I saw you in a documentary about Jesse Helms. Then I heard you’d died. I’m sorry I never got to really know you as a friend.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:27am
  24. May he rest in peace. And let his memory live on through the fight the movement! Much respect to everybody using their voice! One love.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:54am
  25. Rest in peace <3

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 1:05am
  26. I still remember the shock when I heard the news…I ask all to take a moment and to remember his family as well during this time.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 1:08am
  27. May he RIP forever!!

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 1:22am
  28. woww rip god bless you dear special one

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 1:39am
  29. I pray he is resting in peace.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 3:18am
  30. Precious Matt, you’re sitting in a beautiful place where no one hates, and you’re loved for who you are. You’ll be forever in my heart until I see your beautiful face one day….

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 3:49am
  31. No matter how often I read this story, it makes me cry!

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 3:51am
  32. He will always missed n loved yet never forgotten

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 4:12am
  33. I love you! My heart go out to your family.. I’m a lesbian writer add me

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 5:17am
  34. Scarecrow…..

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 5:47am
  35. Seems like yesterday, such a waste for ignorance.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 6:40am
  36. In the fall of 1998, I found my will to survive and to fight for my rights, for equality, for a better world for everybody. And I’m not the only one in that situation. Matthew Shepard was the very beginning for my understanding of our world and of its needs for change, for progress, for freedom, for equality between every human beings. This is why I will always remember Matthew Shepard, a life taken away by the bigotry of this world that should be ours too. Rest in peace, Matthew Shepard.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 8:01am
  37. RIP, Matthew.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 8:40am
  38. RIP dear innocent one. Love strength and positive energy to Mathews mother who told the family story trying to educate and save others.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 9:02am
  39. Your sacrifice galvanized a movement. We honor your memory when we march, petition, vote, serve openly, and, in some places, marry!

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 11:18am
  40. RIP Matt in the arms of the Angels.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 11:21am
  41. Rest in Peace. It would have been great to know you. Your memory will live on. You’re in a better place now. Save us all a spot in heaven with you <3

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 11:23am
  42. Never forgotten in our hearts. You did not die in vain Matthew. Your sacrifice lit this fire. I believe you are in a better place where there is no hate. I will pray that your family and friends are finding peace.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 11:25am
  43. Rest In Peace. He will never be forgotten.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 11:29am
  44. In 1998 i was still a homobigot then in 2003 i met my new girlfriends gay friend and his partner i love her dearly now and because of how nice they were by the time my son came out to me id changf my ideas and now fight for whats right including gay marriage along with repealing doma and to any that i tried to get fired when i was a bigot i apoligize

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 11:34am
  45. RIP, Acceptance is the answer! Not bullying!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 11:50am
  46. RIP

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 11:59am
  47. What happened to mattew went far beyond bullying it crossed the line into hatefull murder im sure his murderers started as school bullies. may he rest in peace and his murderers be tormented forever for what they did to him.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:05pm
  48. R.I.P Matthew Shepard. =’(

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:45pm
  49. Rip Matthew. May you rest with angels….

    Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 6:00pm
  50. @Rob, anybody who wishes an eternity of torment upon anybody else is no better than Matthew’s murderer.

    Posted on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 6:26am