In recognition of the 10-year anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a university of Wyoming student killed for being gay in October 1998, the Matthew Shepard Foundation is launching a national campaign to stop hate among young people.
Judy Shepard, Shepard’s mother and the executive director of the foundation, challenged the 500 attendees of the foundation’s annual gala, “Dare to Make a Difference,” Saturday to each recruit 10 more people to the cause and join the foundation’s fight against hate.
Shepard was brutally beaten by students in Laramie, Wyo., for being gay and died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins five days later.
His death put a face to hate crimes and discrimination that were largely ignored prior to the tragedy and motivated gay people and advocacy groups across the nation to battle hate crimes.
The campaign hopes to eventually engage a million participants worldwide and equip them with tools to fight hate in their communities.
Such tools include personal Web sites and a monthly newsletter, which will help members tell their stories, gain support and share their interest with others to continue recruiting new voices.
“We are starting a movement of people dedicated to erasing hate from our schools, workplaces and communities,” Shepard said in a recent press release. The campaign hopes to “create a community of individuals who are using their voices and talents to address these issues.”
Matthew Matassa, the director of communications for the foundation, said what makes this campaign unique is its focus on youth.
Through MatthewsPlace.com, an Internet offshoot of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and other social networking resources like MySpace and Facebook, younger people are able to get more involved and stay in touch with the foundation.
“Young people are getting negative education in being taught that hate is acceptable,” Matassa said. “They’re the future. We want to make sure they grow up being accepting and understanding.”
College campuses have also recognized this growing adversity toward minority groups including the GLBT community. In hopes of combating these trends several schools, including CSU, have begun introducing more educational and leadership programs and dialogues for smaller groups to incorporate the minority voice on campus, said Foula Dimopoulos, the director of GLBT Student Services at CSU.
“Hate crimes still happen, and the longest lasting pieces of them happen on campuses,” Dimopoulos said. “But it’s possible to challenge these incidents of bias and misunderstanding. Educational programs and open discussions make this campus more inclusive and welcoming.”
With the 10-year anniversary of Shepard’s death coming in October, Dimopoulos said GLBTSS might join forces with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, as well as the University of Wyoming in the future to promote awareness for the GLBT community.
“This tragedy affected both campuses in a deep and profound way,” Dimopoulos said. “We would be remiss not to collaborate with them. . Positive things come out of tragedy. You have to work together. It’s not an option not to.”
Staff writer Alexandra Sieh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breakout: For more information, go to www.matthewshepard.org/campaigntoerasehate, www.matthewsplace.com