On October 7, 1998, Aaron Kreifels was riding his bike through a field in Wyoming.
He wasn’t expecting that day to be different from any other beautiful sunny afternoon in the vast plains surrounding Laramie, but that day would change many lives.
Aaron spotted what he initially thought was a scarecrow next to a fence. Then he noticed a glisten of blood. The sun sparkled on what he barely recognized as a face.
Aaron had discovered 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, clinging to life.
The young college student had been viciously attacked and bludgeoned, and then tied to a fence and left to die. Matthew was targeted because he was gay.
Most of you know what happened next. Matthew held on for five more days and as his parents held his hand and prayed — Matthew slipped away quietly on October 12th, leaving in his wake a new movement for equality.
The outcries for justice and for greater protections were immediate and resonating.
Since then, Matthew’s mother Judy has made it her personal mission to protect all young LGBT people from Matthew’s horrific fate. In founding the Matthew Shepard Foundation, she has created safe spaces in and outside of schools for kids, and worked with parents to ensure their children learn to erase hate from their lives.
But overwhelmingly what you saw in 1998 was a community ready to act, ready to change something. And Matthew’s story was the catalyst for that.
Many of you have seen or read the Moises Kaufman play, The Laramie Project – Matthew’s story as told through interviews of those who were living in Laramie at the time – some of his friends and some who just happened to be riding a bike through the plains of Wyoming that day.
If you think of nothing else today, please consider the importance of telling your story – and how your story can change the world around you.
This young man, unbeknownst to him, has changed the world with his.