On the Anniversary of Matthew Shepard's tragic death, we reflect on the impact of his story

The tragic and untimely death of Matthew Shepard sparked important strides for the protection and rights of LGBTQ+ people in the USA.

Matthew Shepard
Image Source: Matthew Shepard

Content Warning: Contains descriptions of violence and homophobia. 

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard who was killed in a brutal homophobic attack in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998.

Shepard was alone in a bar, the Fireside Lounge, when two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, there under the pretence of being gay so that Shepard would lower his guard. They offered him a lift home with the intention of robbing him, but the incident escalated to violence.

Matthew was hit in the head over 20 times, both by fist and by a .357 magnum pistol that was carried by the remorseless McKinny. After the attack, the criminals tied Shepard to a fence and left him there in near-freezing temperatures until he was found 18 hours later by a passing cyclist.

“He was taken to a Laramie hospital but his injuries were so severe that he needed a neurosurgeon, so he was moved to a Colorado hospital,” said Jason Marsden, who is now the Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

His parents, both in Saudi Arabia for his father’s work, flew back to be with Shepard in the days following his attack before he sadly passed away in Colorado hospital.

“…He was all bandaged, face swollen, stitches everywhere,” Judy Shapard, Matthew’s grieving mother told ABC News’ ‘Nightline’. “His fingers curled, toes curled, one eye was a little bit open.”

“He was just an ordinary kid who wanted to make the world a better place. And they took that away from him. And from us,” said Dennis Shepard, father of the late political science student.

“His goal was to work for the State Department to try to bring the same privileges and rights he thought he had in America to other countries.”

Both of the attackers have faced consecutive life sentences, but they were not charged with hate crimes because, at the time, that evolution of the law had not come into place.

Matthew Shepard
Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson

Following his death and in Shepard’s name, the law was updated to allow prosecution of hate crimes against people because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability.

The tragic and untimely death of Matthew Shepard sparked important strides for the protection and rights of LGBTQ+ people in the USA, but his mother wants us to remember more than that as we mark his anniversary.

“I want people to remember that he was a person, that he was more than this icon in the photograph and the stories,” said Judy. “He was just… Just like every other 21-year-old college student. He had flaws. He was smart, funny. People just were drawn to him. And there was a great loss not just to us, but to all his friends. And people who hadn’t met him yet.”

If you have been affected by this story or are looking to reach out to someone for support or advice or just to talk, there are numerous services available for LGBTQ+ people, listed below, and many offer instant messaging support.

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