The memory and meaning of Matthew Shepard, 16 years later

The memory and meaning of Matthew Shepard, 16 years later
Courtesy the Matthew Shepard Foundation
Courtesy the Matthew Shepard Foundation

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.

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A Statement from the Matthew Shepard Foundation:

On the evening of Oct. 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard was abducted and attacked in Laramie, Wyo., because he was gay. Today, on the 16th anniversary of that terrible event, the U.S. Supreme Court denied appeals seeking to block the rights of loving, committed same-sex couples — and once again October 6th is a pivotal day in LGBT history.

Just like this week in 1998, our community and the nation are watching a monumental story unfold.

The Supreme Court’s decision shows the progress we have made since Matt was attacked, a tragedy that drastically changed the way our country discussed issues of anti-LGBT hate. That conversation is ongoing, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation continues to be at the forefront of ending anti-LGBT hate.

We are in classrooms educating students, in courtrooms fighting and defending legislation, and in theaters across the world producing “The Laramie Project” to encourage others to address issues of hate and inequality in their communities.

It is our hope that our presence in this conversation and community, along with the continued support for human and civil rights in the courts, will soon bring marriage equality to the Equality State and the rest of the nation.

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