He died in a coma at 21 in the Poudre Valley Hospital, after being brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in Laramie, Wyo. for being openly gay.
And this Sunday marks 10 years since the death of the University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard, who spurred a flurry of anti-hate discussion and legislation nationwide.
With the memory of Shepard still fervent in the hearts of friends, family and the GLBT community, they prepare for the 10-year anniversary of his death with a screening of “The Laramie Project” and an open mic Sunday in the Lory Student Center.
Starting at 7 p.m. in the LSC Theater, the film tells the story of Shepard’s death and the wave of change that stemmed from the murder.
The idea to screen the film for the anniversary began with Tommy Crews, a sophomore psychology major and former member of the CSU Residence Hall Association.
Realizing the date was approaching, Crews decided to take initiative and screen the film as a way to get students’ attention and create an understanding of issues still facing the GLBT community.
Crews and other community members commented on the past 10 years, noting aftershocks, what has changed and what hasn’t.
“I hope it will spread awareness,” Crews said of the screening. “I still meet people who have no idea who Matthew Shepard is. I want people to know hate crimes are still going on.”
Other collaborators on the screening include Foula Dimopoulos, the director of GLBT Student Services on campus, and the Lambda Center, a community center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and Ally members of Fort Collins.
Both organizations said they have high hopes for the screening, noting the importance of awareness around the anniversary and the effects of Shepard’s murder.
“I hope the screening and the open mic afterwards will provide people a mechanism to use their voice to stand against injustice, to remember the lives lost and the lives still being lived,” Dimopoulos said in an e-mail interview.
Since Shepard’s murder in 1998, there have been multiple pieces of legislation passed to aid in nondiscriminatory acts across America.
Despite these efforts, national studies, including those done by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, have reported what Dimopoulos described as alarming numbers regarding anti-GLBT crimes.
According to the NCAVP, since 2007, Colorado has seen 118 cases of bias- and hate-motivated crimes and 121 victims of bias-motivated and hate crimes.
Though the number of crimes has fallen 7 percent since 2006, the rates are still high, causing concern among the GLBT community.
These statistics, according to Dimopoulos, “send a clear message to those who are or who are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender people that we are not safe.”
Matthew Shepard’s mother, Judy Shepard, said on the Matthew Shepard Foundation Web site that “much work is left to do to make the world an accepting place.”
“The level of ignorance is astounding,” Judy Shepard said. “The continuing belief that what happened to Matt was not a hate crime and the notion that ‘special people shouldn’t have special rights,’ is beyond my comprehension. The level of ‘hate’ is frightening.”
However, there have been notable improvements since Shepard’s murder that have given hope to GLBT members.
Andy Stoll, the resource development coordinator for the Lambda Center, said that, while there have still been crimes committed with new laws in place, the legislation passed in state and national constitutions has helped to make a difference.
“Legislation helps to heal communities after crimes have happened,” Stoll said. “It helps the community to know that the government is behind them and can heal the fear that crimes cause.”
For Stoll, the most effective change for the GLBT community would start with more educational programs beginning in elementary schools and continuing through universities.
As a GLBT member growing up in Fort Collins, Stoll remembers the isolation he felt throughout school, “being out and knowing how it was for everyone who was out.”
“There was so much fear and lack of self-worth throughout school,” Stoll said. “That’s why we work around kids. We’re here to work on self-esteem building.”
For Stoll, improvements for the GLBT community will start with children. Rather than forming uneducated or biased opinions about GLBT members, Stoll said, children should be educated about the truth, promoting the message that everyone is the same.
Dimopoulos echoed this call for better communication, saying she believed in the need for a community effort toward understanding.
“I think a part of what needs to happen is a conscious, consistent effort towards living in a culture that shuns violence and fear,” she said.
“On a daily basis, I think we need to . find out what we share in common and where our differences lie and that bridge where our humanity and dignity abide.”
It is this idea of awareness and open communication that motivates the screening this Sunday.
From a student perspective, Crews said he has noticed changes toward acceptance since Shepard’s death.
“I believe that the GLBT community has come a long way in the past 10 years,” he said. “More people recognize the GLBT community in a brighter light than they did 10 years ago.”
In showing the film on campus, Crews hopes that students will take notice, be more informed and spread their knowledge to others.
“We are the voices of tomorrow, and if more people know about [Shepard’s death and other anti-GLBT crimes and ways to stop them], we can all have a brighter future.”
Staff writer Alexandra Sieh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.