Matthew Shepard died twenty years ago but his legacy lives on

milkboys History & People 13 Comments

Twenty years ago, on October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard was assaulted and then left for dead in a vicious hate crime that transformed the way America thinks about the abuse endured by queer people. After the devastating crime Matthew’s family worked tirelessly to create a legacy of safety and acceptance, pushing for a hate crime bill that took a decade to pass — and that could now be undone by the Republican party.

Matthew was studying politics and language in Laramie, Wyoming, when he met the two men who would eventually murder him. They offered Matthew a ride home after becoming acquainted at a bar. But on their car ride, they stopped to beat and torture him before tying him to a fence where he was left to die. A description of the crime scene detailed Matthew’s face completely covered in blood except for the streaks left by his tears.

The killers didn’t get far. That same night, they got into a fight with a group of people and police were called, quickly finding evidence of the assault. Meanwhile, Matthew was found by a cyclist passing by the fence early in the morning. He was still alive, and was brought to a trauma centre in Colorado. There, he was found to have suffered extensive brain injuries, leaving his body unable to regulate his heart. He passed away a week later on October 12.

In their defence, the killers’ attorney claimed they were driven into a murderous rage after learning that Matthew was gay. This is the so-called “gay panic” defence, by which the perpetrators of violence seek to defend their actions by claiming they’re unable to control themselves in the presence of queer people. Such defences are still employed by people in the U.S., even to this day.

The country was horrified by the violent killing, but also galvanised to action. After enduring the loss of their child, Matthew’s parents formed a foundation to advocate for an end to violence as well as services to ensure the safety of queer youth. Friends and family pushed hard for new hate crime laws, but faced intense resistance from Republicans who sought to protect anti-gay violence. State and federal Republicans did everything in their power to block hate crime laws from taking effect.

It took a decade of hard work, but finally, in 2009, Democrats were able to push through the roadblocks and pass The Matthew Shepard Act in 2009. The bill expands hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

But many Republicans still oppose protections for queer people, and the law could be undermined by determined anti-LGBTQ extremists. In particular, Donald Trump‘s pick for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, has been tied to efforts to undo progress. Kavanaugh worked in the Bush White House at a time when the administration was doing everything in its power to sabotage hate crime laws. Now that he was appointed to the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh might find a way to roll back what protections we now have. The work of honouring Matthew Shepard’s legacy is still not finished.

Read more…

Comments 13

  1. Does the truth now matter?
    Whatever really happened and whatever circumstances actually existed some greater good did result from all of that awfulness.

    Let it be.
    Regret every lost life

    Love your neighbour

  2. Some of us, left, center and right, queer and straight, opposed hate crimes legislation as a form of “thought crime” legislation, criminalizing thoughts and feelings that can be very hard to determine. We also worried that it could be used for reactionary ends; see, for instance, the attempts by supporters of Israel to condemn all criticism of Israel and of Zionism as being anti-Semitic prejudice. Finally, hate crimes laws are not just mirror images of non-discrimination laws. The former can add layers of charges and penalties for crimes against so-called “protected classes,” while the latter bars discrimination against those “protected classes.” So where anti-discrimination laws try to level the playing field, hate crime laws do just the opposite. And where some of us can support affirmative action laws that offer an extra hand up to people who have historically been discriminated against and continue to be discriminated against to this day, that’s very different from piling on more charges and more penalties in a criminal case, where it then appears that “this” victim’s life is worth more than “that” victim’s life, a phenomenon we often see when someone is charged with killing a police officer.

    Still, for all that, and for all that there are very deep questions about exactly what went on that night and in the period leading up to it, Rest In Peace, young Matthew, Rest In Peace.

  3. In my mind, …
    “see, for instance, the attempts by supporters of Israel to condemn all criticism of Israel and of Zionism as being anti-Semitic prejudice.”

    is a layer we simply do NOT NEED to “respect/protect”: and that’s “religions” — it’s purely “voluntary” [and so goes the argument whether being brainwashed is voluntary or not] — in believing in a 100% FALSE ideology that’s been proven that way by science. I write this because of my own experiences when young: I was being brainwashed as was every other teen in my area (near Denver, Colorado) with this crap, but I recognized [and “installed”] a “god filter” to keep that crap out of my mind — with the obvious exception to lie about and fool the brainwashers into thinking they had “done their job” to brainwash me. And I had to do this throughout my high school years in which I was forced to go to a very private, very religious [southern] baptist boarding school.

    I point this out, because I had the frame of mind at a young age to recognize the total bullshit of the entire “god” concept and the equally bullshit concepts of any “religions”. So, for me, any “acceptance/non acceptance was “voluntary” — and I easily chose the latter — before my 12th cycle around the Sun. But I can also understand how the forcing [brainwashing] of this bullshit can and does confuse hundreds of millions of young people to the point where it’s questionable of being “voluntary” — at least until their age of reason which, to me, should have “kicked in” at the very least by the age around 16. Adults that have gone to school and were told in any sort of way to express “critical thinking” of HOW to think, and not WHAT to “think.”

    I not only am definitely “anti-semitic” [the theism, not the person] but I’m also equally anti-christianity, anti-islmac, anti-mormon, anti-any other asinine ‘religion.”

    1. “…not only am definitely “anti-semitic” [the theism, not the person] but I’m also equally anti-christianity…”

      For this, Penboy will be reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly, the Holy Office, formerly, the Holy Inquisition) in Rome. You will be charged with heresy, blasphemy, apostacy, and not returning your shopping carts to the designated area.

      Women who have had nothing to do with you or this offense will be called to testify against you, and even if they perjure themselves, because they are women, they must be believed anyway, and their false testimony will be given full weight at your sentencing.

      1. Are you saying that people who do not returning their shopping cart to the designated area should just be given a pass?

  4. “For this, Penboy will be reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly, the Holy Office, formerly, the Holy Inquisition) in Rome.”

    Please do. And then I’ll ream them with a new one.

    “because they are women, they must be believed anyway,”

    You live up to your chrissssssstian ignorance.

    1. Hmmm, it seems we will have to assign your interrogation to Franciscan Friars. They were, by far, the fiercest of the Inquisiting Orders.

Leave a Comment