Six years ago today, October 12, 1998, University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten under circumstances which are a bit unclear, but which were almost entirely motivated by homophobia on the part of the assailants. He died at a hospital in Laramie some five days later. His death was perhaps the most graphic and moving example of new types of hate crimes in our era; it was also a catalyst for legislatures nationwide to enact hate crime legislation. However, six years later many states have done nothing to legally define homophobia-related attacks as hate crimes. According to the FBI, crimes committed in 2002 due to bias based on sexual orientation represent 1 in 6 of reported hate-crime incidents. There were more than 1,200 incidents and 1500 victims in 2002 alone.
Matthew's mother Judy travels the nation today as the public face of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an entity created to heighten public awareness and understanding of hate crimes against gays. Her work, and the work of the many others that have joined her in every corner of the nation, is far from finished, but we're on our way.
"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
-Robert F. Kennedy