12 October marked 19 years since the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay man from Wyoming. Though there have been some advancements in LGBTI rights since 1998, his parents are still fighting hard in the face of the Trump Administration.
Matthew Shepard, 21, was found badly beaten and tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. He was left for dead. The 2000 play The Laramie Project focused on the widespread reaction to his death.
Shepard’s death led to a huge push for hate crime legislation in America. President Bill Clinton expanded the federal hate crime legislation to include LGBTI and disabled individuals. A Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed in 1999.
Ten years later, in 2009, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This law made it a federal crime to assault someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2013, Obama also reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act with added protections for LGBTI victims of violence.
In late 1998, Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis, started the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a LGBTI non-profit that runs education, outreach, and advocacy programs.
With the Trump Administration, LGBTI people face more barriers
Still, despite this progress, Judy and Dennis Shepard are standing strong in the face of new threats to LGBTI individuals.
‘A collective grief and outrage has awakened among the LGBTQ+ community and its allies after endless decades of cruelty and exclusion,’ Judy Shepard writes for The Huffington Post. ‘We are now witness to that collective outrage surfacing in the mainstream today.’
‘Between the rolling back of Title IX obligations for transgender youth to be able to use the bathroom of their choice in school, to this administration’s heavy-handed (or in this case, heavy-thumbed) transgender military ban tweets and many other similar attacks, it feels pretty obvious that this community is being targeted again. How can this be? How can it be 2017, and still we don’t have full equality? Or at least a government that believes in the basic human rights of all of its citizens?’
Judy and Dennis Shepard still travel around the country to speak on the issue of LGBTI equality. However, earlier this year, the Shepards were invited to the CIA to talk about LGBTI rights only to have their speech canceled last minute.
‘Despite the current climate in our country, we are still being welcomed by schools and community theaters performing “The Laramie Project.” In fact, one teen – whom we are honoring at our 2017 gala – took it upon herself to reach out to 49 schools or theaters to have them sign on to her initiative: “The Laramie Project” Project. Each of these performances honored a victim of the Pulse nightclub shooting,’ Judy writes.
‘What started as a single family experiencing and trying to heal from tragedy has grown into a proud and dignified tribute to all who have experienced discrimination, harm and loss at the hands of bigotry and bias.’
‘With the American people’s support and strength, we will continue this work as long as this message is needed. We see every day how, despite amazing advances, the civil rights and dignity of all who differ from society’s expectations still are threatened by ignorance and hatred.’
‘The Matthew Shepard Foundation stands strong in 2017 because of those who stand with us as we continue to persuade people to make a difference every day. Please, be one of those people. Erase hate in your corner of the country or the world. If you and all those around you do that, with heart, every day, we will finally live in the hate-free world we seek and deserve.’