Matthew Shepard's Legacy
by Jody Marksamer, Youth Project Director
Matthew Shepard’s death in part because the whole country watched as he clung to life for several days even after being beaten and left to die overnight on a Wyoming fence raised the awareness of the entire country as to severity of the problem of anti-gay hatred. It also raised people’s awareness of how bias and hatred could result in horrible, devastating violence against LGBT youth. Because of Matt, it became impossible for people to deny that LGBT youth exist and are at risk everywhere in the country, including in rural areas.
After Matt’s death, there was a national outpouring not only of grief, but of advocacy. A vigil was held at the U.S. Capitol, and in so many communities around the country at which major national, state and local leaders spoke out about the epidemic problem of hate violence and pledged to do something about it.
Matthew’s memory is kept alive through the courageous work of Matt’s parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, who have been determined to educate and enlighten others on the importance of diversity, understanding, compassion, acceptance, and respect and to prevent what happened to Matt from happening to others. Through their loving and unconditional support of Matt, they became role models for the entire country.
The story of Matt’s death, which has been re-told so many times, in so many settings, increased the visibility of LGBT youth in this country, and made education and advocacy work on behalf of LGBT youth possible.
In my work every day on LGBT youth issues, I see the need for so many things: We need people to know more, to care more, to understand more, and to take action to change things for the better when LGBT young people are at risk.
NCLR’s Youth Project understands these needs and has been committed to doing the necessary work to change the legal landscape for LGBT youth and change the hearts and minds of those who have the power to ensure that the LGBT young people in their schools, group homes, or juvenile facilities are safe, can live openly, and are able to reach their full potential. We do this by training social workers, teachers, foster parents, lawyers, and administrators on how to protect LGBT youth and support environments that foster acceptance. We help write and pass laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, foster care, and juvenile justices systems. And we empower young people to know their rights and demand that the adults around them treat them fairly and with the respect they deserve and that the law requires.
Today’s LGBT or questioning youth may be too young to remember Matthew Shepard’s murder , but the fact remains that through his life and his death combined with his parents’ hard work in Matthew’s memory every day we move one step closer to ensuring that today’s youth live in communities that value and embrace all young people.
For more information about NCLR’s Youth Project, please visit: www.nclrights.org/youth.