Saturday, October 8, 2011

Remembering Matthew Shepard

Thirteen years ago on October 6, 1998, college student Matthew Shepard headed out to a local bar in rural Laramie, Wyoming to have a few drinks, meet some people and have a few laughs. The next day he was found brutally beaten and left for dead, tied to a fence on a secluded country road.

According to his parents, Matt was studying political science and was driven by his passion for equality. In the years since Matt's death he has become a symbol for the LGBT community of the consequences of intolerance, hate and homophobia.

After a week in a coma, with no hope of recovery from the severity of the beating he endured, Matthew Shepard died in the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, on October 12, 1998.

Matt's killers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, who first claimed the "gay panic" defense, then said it was just a robbery gone wrong, are now each serving two consecutive life sentences.

Every civil rights movement has had its martyrs, from Jesus to Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King. None of them wanted to die either, but having chosen become leaders for freedom and peace, they knew they were putting their lives -- and the lives of their followers -- in danger. Matt never intended to be a symbol or a martyr to the cause. Like the rest of us, he just wanted to live his life and maybe make a difference in the lives of others.

Although his young life was savagely cut short by blind hatred just as it was getting started, Matthew Shepard has made a difference in the lives of millions of people that he never met. After ten years of fighting congressional bigotry, Matt's mother, Judy Shepard, proudly stood in the Oval Office as President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

It's been said that freedom is never free, but in the land of the free, why must it come at such a high cost?

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