He was found on October 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming by a bicyclist. He was tied to a buck-rail fence and the cyclist mistook him as a scarecrow. Matthew was kidnapped, robbed, beaten and left to die. He was found 18 hours after the attack and was in the hospital, comatose.
Two men were found and convicted of the crime, a crime committed because he was gay. Matthew’s parents instantly became involved in the gay community, forming the Matthew Shepard Foundation after receiving numerous letters from gay people asking for the Shepards to discuss having a gay son due to their parents’ refusal to talk to them. The parents decided to do more than that, advocating for the rights of LGBT people by holding talks at colleges and high schools nationwide, creating movies, and even a play on Matthew.
In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Boyd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Law, which opened up more territory to interpret what a hate crime against gay people consisted of. The Shepards believed their work was done, two years ago. Instead of advocating for LGBTQ+ folk, they just wanted to honor the memory of their son.
But, in this new age, they believed that their son’s name was forgotten. They took it as a positive sign. “Young people don’t care,” Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s father, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “They’re more concerned with climate change, maybe gun control, maybe health care. They don’t care who’s holding who’s hand or who’s dating whom. It’s not that big a deal. And that’s the way it should be. They should be accepting each other for who they are.”
But, in 2016, hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community increased, according to the FBI.
And the day after Trump was elected, hate crimes grew.
In 2017, a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs followed the hate influenced murders of 52 LGBTQ+ individuals. and averaged that there was about one homicide a week.
According to The Human Rights Campaign, at least 129 anti-LGBTQ laws were proposed in numerous states.
New York City’s Anti-Violence Project hotline meant for LGBTQ+ folks to report incidents of violence to a trained counselor increased by 34% from 2016 to 2017.
President Trump’s administration, which has anti-LGBTQ members such a Vice President Pence, recently released a controversial statement where gender should be defined as male or female, specifically what genitals a person is born with. This would erase transgender people.
Matthew’s parents have debated on what to do with Matthew’s ashes. They wanted to visit him, didn’t want to divide his ashes, and knew Matthew felt safe in churches. When a group from the Smithsonian came to look through Matthew’s belongings, a member asked if the Shepards considered having Matthew’s ashes interred in Washington National Cathedral. After contacting a family friend, the first openly gay bishop ordained in the Episcopal Church, the Shepards set a date to finally place Matthew to rest. The Washington National Cathedral offered for the family to have a private service, but the family wanted to keep it open. The service began Friday October 26 at 10 am, and the number of people coming was unknown but expected to reach hundreds, also taken in account anti-gay picketers outside the service.
The owner of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Barbara Poma, was talking to Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother about how there is no monument to discuss Matthew. Judy Shepard said she wasn’t surprised, that her husband and her fought for many years for LGBT youth, with the discussion of LGBT people being so volatile that her husband had to wear a bulletproof vest under his suit when they held a funeral for Matthew twenty years ago. This volatility according to the Shepards had lessened to a degree, because the country’s young people were focusing on other issues. However, LGBTQ+ people are still facing discrimination and hate today, and a survey shows that non-LGBTQ+ Americans feel uncomfortable with LGBTQ members in their place of worship, holding hands, and being a member of their family. Matthew Shepard’s death is just as important today as it was 20 years ago, not because the legal action for LGBTQ+ people with hate crimes was addressed, but because the death of Matthew Shepard was not the first death of the LGBTQ+ community, and it will not be the last with how America treats LGBTQ+ people.