Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence post and severely beaten with the butt of a pistol before being left to die in Laramie, Wyoming, on October 7, 1998. Shepard was found by a bicyclist 18 hours after being left for dead, and died in a hospital on October 12.
The nation was horrified at the cruelty done to the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who was attacked and killed because he was gay.
But no one could have been more horrified than Matthews’s parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard. Since that terrible time, the Shepards have tirelessly worked to support and protect members of the LGTBQ community.
The grieving parents turned activists shared Matthew’s story and his humanity, working to highlight “the importance of standing up for the LGBT community.”
Ultimately, it wasn’t just individuals or families of the LGTB community that were persuaded to step in to stop hate and cruelty from taking another life. The Shepards’ work helped to get The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 passed during the Obama administration when Joe Biden was Vice President.
That’s why The Shepards joined the Democratic National Convention’s roll call Tuesday night to express their support of Presidential nominee, Biden.
Dennis Shepard said in a video recorded for the occasion, “After our son Matthew’s death in Wyoming Joe Biden helped pass legislation to protect LGBTQ Americans from hate crimes. Joe understands more than most our grief over Matt’s death, but we see in Joe so much of what made Matt’s life special. His commitment to equality, his passion for social justice and his boundless compassion for others.”
You can watch the Shepards cast votes for Biden on Behalf of Wyoming here:
Proud to see our dear friends Judy and Dennis Shepard featured at the #DemConvention. We will continue to fight so that no person faces discrimination or hate simply because of who they are or whom they love. pic.twitter.com/5OaJ7nIfsT
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) August 19, 2020
The Shepard’s Public Tragedy & Private Grief Became the Catalyst for the Matthew Shepard Foundation
“The initial purpose of the foundation was to teach parents with children who may be questioning their sexuality to love and accept them for who they are, and to not throw them away,” according to the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s website.
But the work has evolved. Over the past two decades, the foundation has not only helped get a federal hate crimes bill passed but also reports it has “provided hate crimes training to 1,060 law enforcement officers and 76 prosecutors since May 2017; created dialogue about hate and acceptance within communities around the world; and built a robust collection of resources to support the Laramie Project and other legacy works inspired by Matt’s story.”
Their ultimate goal though is to change the minds and hearts of those who harbor hate toward the LGTBQ community.
The DNC’s Roll Call Was a Mash-Up of Politicians, Everyday Workers & Victims of Tragedy
Last night, folks from across the country came together to show how much stronger we are when we stand united. Looking forward to tonight where we'll talk about why leadership matters, and hear from my favorite #DemConvention speaker, @DrBiden. https://t.co/7nunEqhK9C
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 19, 2020
The virtual roll call Tuesday night spanned 57 states and territories according to The New York Times. Fred Guttenberg’s daughter was killed in the Parkland Shooting and he says Biden will be tough on the NRA. A meatpacking worker believes Biden will “have their backs” during COVID; Some said they feel like Biden would bring the nation together by not tolerating racism and hate, others say he’d be the best pick to improve infrastructure, education, and healthcare.
But it was the Shepards that reminded the nation of the persistence of hate, and the persistence of love. Still grieving for the loss of their son 22 years after his cruel death, the Shepard’s continue to work toward eradicating hate and hate crimes.
According to data from the FBI and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) hate crimes against the LGTBQ community have continually risen over the last three years USA Today reported in 2019.
But the Shepards and the foundation named for their son say they’ll never stop trying to make a change.
Their website says, “It is our sincerest hope that one day, the Foundation may be able to close its doors. But the same hate and violence that sparked the Foundation’s formation still exist today, both at home and abroad. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure safety, visibility, and inclusiveness for the entire LGBT community until that ideal becomes reality.”