This month – the LGBT month – all of America commemorates the death of Matthew Shepard who, 13 years ago, was brutally killed in what turned out to be a hate crime against his sexual orientation.
October is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) month and also the most appropriate time to commemorate the tragic events that abruptly ended the life of an 18-year-old, thus creating one of the most powerful symbols for hate crimes in American history. The attack took place in Laramie, Wyoming on the night of October 7th 1998. The attackers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson took Shepard into a remote area, tied him up, viciously beat him and left him to die.
More than a decade after their son’s death, Shepard’s parents consider that “Matt’s legacy has challenged and inspired millions of individuals to erase hate in all its forms, thus changing the way Americans talk about and deal with crime in USA”.
The tragic event brought to the public attention the magnitude of hate crimes and the actual danger gay people have to face on a day to day basis. Furthermore, Matthew’s violent death stirred up protests even to his funeral from organizations such as Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church. Such radical displays of bigotry and hatred led to a completely new approach for the debates against hate crimes and gay rights.
The inhumane events determined an immediate reaction even from the President of the U.S. at the time, Bill Clinton. In a state of shock and grief, he dismissed such behavior as part of the American values.
Shepard’s death led to unprecedented public support, media coverage and attention to the LGBT cause and their endless pursuit against hate crimes and discrimination. Thus, events such as the murder of the transgender Gwen Araujo and Lawrence King’s shooting based on sexual orientation found a more concerned and sympathetic public reaction.
Two years ago, on October 22nd, an act named after Shepard added gender, sexual orientation and gender identity to the previous hate crimes laws, passed the United State Congress. Only six days later, president Obama approved the law, thus making it the first piece of federal legislation that supports the LGBT cause.