In Memory of Matthew Shepard
October 11th is National Coming Out day. It is also one day before a very sad anniversary–the death of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten, tortured and killed outside of Laramie, Wyoming in 1998.
Matthew was brutally murdered because he was gay. His killers pistol-whipped in the head and tied him to a fence, leaving him to die. Astonishingly, at his trial, one of his attackers claimed that he simply panicked, and was driven to “temporary insanity,” upon learning Matthew was gay. The truth was, the two men premeditated the murder, pretending they were gay in order to befriend Matthew and then rob and kill him. One defendant pleaded guilty, and the other was found guilty of felony murder, sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Matthew’s death brought about calls for stricter hate crime legislation. Under Wyoming and Federal law at the time, LGBT persons were not included within existing hate crime definitions. The battle to bring about this change was not easy. It took nearly 20 years of lobbying, votes, threats of vetoes, and partisan bickering before a Federal law included LGBT persons within the definition. On October 28, 2009, President Obama finally signed the Matthew Shepard Act into law.
I came out publicly in 2005, though I had been out privately for many decades with friends and family. My decision stemmed from a desire to stand up and be counted, so that I could help people see the human side of how bigotry, hatred and intolerance affects others. Coming out is never easy, and often never ending. If you have gay, lesbian or bisexual friends who have come out to you, take the time to thank them today for their courage, and for helping to make a difference in the lives of others, especially of young people like Matthew Shepard who bear so much of the burden of homophobia, bullying and violence against LGBT people.
Thank you. And Matthew, I promise you, we will remember.