|Matthew Shepard - son and brother.|
At the risk of dampening the uplifting message of NCOD, I like to use this time each year to remember Matthew, and in so doing, bring attention to the enormous need we have for greater tolerance in our society, as well as the importance of showing support for those among us who struggle to accept their own sexuality.
Matthew Shepard was 21 years old when he died fourteen years ago on October 12th, 1998.
He was one of two sons born to his mother Judy and his father Dennis, along with his younger brother Logan.
He was a student at the University of Wyoming. He loved politics and traveling.
He was a slight kid, measuring only 5'3" tall and weighing not much more than 100 pounds. Matthew was gay.
Just after midnight on one cold night in early October, Matthew met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming. Under the guise of giving Matthew a ride home, the two men, also both in their early twenties, drove Matthew to a ranch in a remote area outside of Laramie.
And when they were finished ruining this young man, McKinney and Henderson took his wallet and shoes, tied him to a fence, and left him to die alone in the near freezing darkness of a cold Wyoming night.
Eighteen hours later, Matthew was discovered by a cyclist who found him tied to the fence, and who at first, believed him to be a scarecrow. Matthew was taken to the hospital where his injuries were deemed too severe for doctors to operate. He survived a few days in intensive care, never regaining consciousness, and having no chance to say goodbye to his mother, father or brother, before he was pronounced dead at 12:53 a.m. on October 12.
The world has changed dramatically in the fourteen years since Matthew's murder. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were both convicted and each is serving two consecutive life sentences in prison. A play, The Laramie Project, has been written and several movies have been made about Matthew. A non-profit organization, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, has been established to honor Matthew's memory and to promote tolerance and diversity. Dozens of local and state hate crimes laws, and a piece of federal legislation called the Matthew Shepard Act, have been passed.
We have made progress, but still, young gay people are not safe. We need only look at the recent examples of bullying and suicide to see how much work we still have to do.
We must leave the world a better place than it was when we entered it. If not you and me, then who? It is not enough to shake our heads and walk away, or to sit idly by and say nothing, when we witness hate. We must set a bold example; we must take responsibility for confronting evil and for educating others. It is not enough to hope the next generation is more aware than the last.
We must actively seek out opportunities to talk to kids about these difficult subjects and then help them understand our shared responsibilities as caring human beings. We must help our children be brave and strong, for themselves and for others, so that they can make a difference, so they can make us proud.
RIP Matthew Shepard. You are not forgotten.