Do you remember where you were 23 years ago when you heard?
I was in my third year of teaching high school in a small Maine, student population 330, town population of 3,200. Everyone knew everyone. If you wanted privacy, you would have to leave town. I wasn’t out to anyone really, no family members knew, no long-term friends knew, but I had started going to gay bars, had just been on a very few dates, dealt with some psychos, dead ends, but never found someone that helped me be me. As youngins (I was 23 at the time and wouldn’t fully come out for another year), we hope to see a a searchlight to make sure we are headed in the right direction, some kind of signal that yes, we can be ourselves and be truly open and live.
In 1998, in a Wyoming town of just over 27,000 inhabitants, something happened that would push so many people back into the closet for years. Even with National Coming Out Day (started 10 years before), the attack on Matthew Shepard would have a lasting effect on the LGBTQ Community.
[On October 6, 1998], Matthew stopped into the Fireside Bar in Laramie, Wyoming, to take a break from his studies at home. By the following morning, a family, and a nation, was changed forever by an act of senseless violence.
We continue to grieve and share Matt’s story with the world, and every October we are reminded of the strength we have because of you, our supporters. [Even after 23 years], the Foundation, through its programs and partnerships, has never been more necessary and has never reached more people in need than it does today.
With each passing year, we honor Matt by continuing to achieve monumental steps toward true equality, and we honor you for making it possible. We remember Matt and all those who have suffered discrimination, harm and loss at the hands of bigotry and hatred, and we continue our work to prevent others from experiencing a similar fate. – Matthew Shepard Foundation
Matthew was attacked on October 6th, 1998 and passed away six (6) days later at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, on October 12, from severe head injuries. The news of his passing came at a very critical part of my life. We had talked about his attack in the classroom, students were dealing with the upcoming National Coming Out Day, and then news of his passing happened.
The loss of Matthew Shepard will always be a part of my life. He was 2 1/2 years younger than I was at the time with him in college and I just finishing. He was more out and open than I was and this is what happened to him. It was frightful.
Today, in 2021, we will have college seniors who will not remember Matthew Shepard and probably have never heard of him before. They won’t remember being alive when we lost Matthew, 23 years ago and have nothing to relate to him.
LGBT history is not just in the summer months with Prides and Stonewall. There are many days, occurrences, losses, and happenings that need remembering, both celebratory days and unfortunate ones.
If you know someone that may need to be educated on Matthew Shepard, the entire hour and a half Laramie Project Movie can be found online as well as inserted here.
Moisés Kaufman and members of New York’s Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie, Wyoming after the murder of Matthew Shepard. This is a film version of the play they wrote based on more than 200 interviews they conducted in Laramie. It follows and in some cases re-enacts the chronology of Shepard’s visit to a local bar, his kidnap and beating, the discovery of him tied to a fence, the vigil at the hospital, his death and funeral, and the trial of his killers. It mixes real news reports with actors portraying friends, family, cops, killers, and other Laramie residents in their own words. It concludes with a Laramie staging of “Angels in America” a year after Shephard’s death. – youtube.com
We have come a long way since 1998, but we still have a long way to go. We still hear of and even personally experience hate crimes here in the United States. It is not all rainbow and unicorns. We thank the Matthew Shepard foundation for continuing their fight in the name of Matthew.