Matthew Shepard’s Legacy Continues

Matthew ShepardToday marks sixteen years since Matthew Shepard died from the injuries he suffered in a horrific hate crime in Laramie Wyoming.

In the wake of Matthew Shepard’s death an important discussion on hate crimes began in the USA. Which lead to the introduction of historic legislation.

Through plays such as ‘The Laramie Project’ and by films and documentaries Matthew Shepard’s legacy has become an ongoing discussion about acceptance and the importance of LGBTIQ rights.

The most recent work to celebrate the life of Shepard is ‘Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine’, critics have applauded the film for it’s emotional impact.

Each year more and more people learn about the story of Matthew Shepard and re-access their thoughts about LGBTIQ people and their rights. The Matthew Shepard Foundation that was created by his parents continues to tackle homophobia through a range of different programs and advocacy, including campaigning for marriage equality in the USA.

Matthew Shepard Foundation Applauds US Marriage Equality Court Decision

Earlier this week the Matthew Shepard Foundation released a statement applauding the US Supreme Court’s decision to deny appeals against same sex marriage in several states.

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.

A Horrific Hate Crime

Shepard met two men at a bar who agreed to give him a ride home. Instead of taking him home they drove to a remote rural spot and robbed him.,

He was pistol whipped and tortured, he suffered a severe brain stem injury and his body lost the ability to regulate his vital functions, he was tied to fence and left to die.

A cyclist discovered Shepard the next day. He’d been tied to the fence for eighteen hours and slipped into a coma from which he never awoke.

At first the cyclist had thought that Shepard’s body was a scarecrow. His injuries were too severe for Doctors to operate on, and five days after the attack Shepard died, he was 21 years old.

The death of Matthew Shepard drew international attention to the concept of hate crimes and acts of violence against people because of their sexuality. At the trial of the two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, it was established that they had deliberately targeted Shepard, intending to rob a gay man.

At one stage of the proceedings McKinney defended his and Henderson’s actions via a gay panic defence claiming that Sheppard had come on to them and this had led to a period of temporary insanity. The prosecution successfully argued that the murder was a planned action.

Following Shepard’s death his parents created The Matthew Shepard Foundation, an organisation that aims to replace hate with compassion, understanding and acceptance. The foundation works with GLBTIQ youth and has also lobbied for the introduction of hate crime laws in the United States.

The Mathew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crime Prevention Act became law in 2009. The act altered the USA’s existing hate crime legislation to include crimes that are motivated by the victims actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

The other person named in the act, James Byrd was an African American man killed in 1988 by three men who are alleged to be white supremacists. Byrd was tied to the back of a truck and dragged behind it for three miles until he was decapitated. Alongside the acts inclusion of sexuality and gender it also broadened the jurisdiction of federal hate crimes.

The reactions of the people of lived in Laramie, Wyoming – the town where Shepard was murdered were captured and presented in a play, The Laramie Project that continues to be performed around the world including recent performances in Margaret River.

 

 


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