Twenty-one years ago, on October 12th, 1998, Matthew Shepard died at Poudre Memorial Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, after being beaten to death by two men in Laramie, Wyoming. He was only 21 years old; he would have been 43 this year. After his death, there were countless protests for and against the LGBTQ community. Westboro Baptist Church picketed his funeral, carrying homophobic signs. The same thing happened at his killers’ trials.
In the years since his funeral, his father Dennis and his mother Judy founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation, to spread awareness about the LGBTQ community and the work that needs to be done. Some of that work was fulfilled when Matthew was one of the first 50 to be on a monument in the Stonewall Inn in New York City. This was done in connection with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
President Clinton tried to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, but it failed by a single vote in the Senate. When President Bush was in office, the US House and Senate passed legislation in honor of Matthew Shepard, but Bush indicated he would veto the bill if it went to him, so it was dropped. Then in 2009, the LGBTQ bill honoring Matthew was signed into law by President Obama.
Last year Matthew Shepard was the first person since Helen Keller to have his ashes buried in Washington National Cathedral in D.C., with his parents and family in attendance. The first openly gay Episcopalian, Bishop Gene Robinson, and Mariann Budde, the Bishop of Washington, officiated the service.
Since the current President has been in office, he has made it harder and harder to make sure the LGBTQ community is fully respected and have the same rights as normal human beings, for instance by arguing that members of the LGBTQ community can be fired for who they are. Members of the LGBTQ community can be bullied and humiliated. This is wrong. We all need to contact our representatives and remind them of Matthew’s story.
Let’s make sure Matthew Shephard’s tragedy never happens again.