Fourteen years ago, Matthew Shepherd (1976-1998) was fighting for his life in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. He had been brutally beaten and tortured and tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming, left for dead, because he was gay. Four days later, on October 12, he died from the trauma of his severe multiple injuries. He was less than two months from turning 22.
His story shook me to my bones. Its senseless brutality still does.
Matthew Shepherd’s mother and father have begun the Matthew Shepherd Foundation whose mission is to “erase hate” and “embrace diversity.” Lofty and commendable goals. Great good stemming from their deep and profound sorrow.
On Oct 22, 2009, The Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act finally passed after numerous setbacks. It was signed into law by President Obama. “After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we’ve passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray, or who they are. I promised Judy Shepard [Matthew’s mother], when she saw me in the Oval Office, that this day would come.”
Judy Shepherd said last year, “October cannot go by anymore, and never will again, without us wondering what might have been, for us and for so many other families, if hatred of gay, and lesbian, and bisexual, and transgendered people, and all those whom others simply think might be, had been rooted out long ago.”
Marriage equality, employment discrimination, and family law are just a few of the places where plenty of work needs to be done. But clearly, one of the most timely and critical actions, is in this upcoming presidential election. The message could not be clearer regarding the choice for equal rights and support for human dignity. Make sure your voice is heard through your ballot. We need to be sure we elect a president who will continue to champion gay rights.