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Matthew Shepard would have been 41 today

Oh how we wish he were here to celebrate his birthday.

Matthew Shepard was born 41 years ago today.

It was 19 years ago in October that Matthew died from severe head injuries after being abducted and tortured by two men who left him to die – tied to a fence – near the town of Laramie, Wyoming.

The college student was just 21.

The attackers were arrested and eventually sentenced to two-consecutive life sentences each for one of the most notorious hate crimes in U.S. history.

His parents created The Matthew Shepard Foundation shortly after their son’s death and it continues its work today.

The deeply moving film Matt Shepard Was a Friend of Mine debuted on the film festival circuit in 2014, won numerous audience and jury awards and earlier last year received the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Special Class Special.

The film tells how Shepard had only recently returned to his hometown in Wyoming to go to college after a post-high school spiral during which he dropped out of college in North Carolina then spent a year living in deep depression in Colorado.

Once outgoing and upbeat, Shepard had struggled after being raped by a group of men in Morocco during a trip there with friends from high school.

But by the time of his death, several friends interviewed in the film say he had regained his footing.

Meanwhile, parents Dennis and Judy Shepard have worked tirelessly – and successfully – to get federal hate crimes legislation passed in the U.S.

Married for 43 years, they have also traveled to 18 counties in recent years for the US State Department to talk about equal rights and bullying and discrimination.

In an emotional interview with me in 2015, Dennis Shepard spoke of living with such a tremendous loss.

‘You feel the guilt that you weren’t there when he was out there in that field by himself, that’s the thing that really bothers me,’ he said. ‘Was he asking for dad to come take care of him like he used to?’

It’s clear that no matter how many years pass, the loss is ever present.

‘You never make progress, you’re always mourning,’ the father said. ‘You always have that hole. You don’t have the same joy when it comes to mother’s Day and Father’s Day and birthdays and Christmas. You always have that little bit of mourning that you’re doing and grieving. But you have to go on with your life. You can’t just shelter up in the corner. Matt wouldn’t have wanted that and I refuse to do it because then the bad guys win.

‘We were forced into (activism),’ he added. ‘We didn’t know anything about the gay issues. Matt was our son, that’s all we knew. We didn’t know that he’d have to fear for his life, that he couldn’t get a job if he was gay, we didn’t know any of these issues. It just really upset us to find this out – all these kids with no chance to succeed because they are considered different. That is just not right.’

FILE UNDER: Birthdays

Comments

(All comments are reviewed before being published, and I review submissions several times per day.)

3 Remarks

  1. Rest in Peace Matthew. I remember when it first happened I felt so scared and afraid “Could I be murdered by a heterosexual too all because I’m gay.” I was honestly afraid to go to middle school.

  2. Mathews murder is seared in my brain. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news and how terrifying and devastating it was. Within minutes everyone I knew-specially all my LGBT friends-had called each other. It was a scary time.

    What might Matthew have achieved had he lived I wonder? My gut tells me he would have run for office and made a difference. His life DID make a difference of course. It’s heartbreaking he had to lose it to do so.

    We should never forget!

  3. December 2nd, 2017 at 4:35 pm
    William G Rose Jr says:

    Matt is MY SON, too. Always will be!

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