20 Years Later- Matthew Shepard and the Legacy Left Behind

Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard

Noelle Rose Hardin, Writer

Just twenty years ago on the thirteenth October, Wyoming saw one of its darkest days; the murder of Matthew Shepard. This tragedy shook the LGBT+ community to its core as we heard of the monstrosities acted upon the 21-year-old, gay college student. Matthew Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming studying political science when he was brutally beaten and left to die.

His murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, kidnapped Shepard and relentlessly assaulted him. These men had tied Shepard up to a fence and left him to die until a cyclist found him 18 hours later. By the time he was operated on in a Colorado hospital, the brain damage caused by the beating and pistol-whipping was irreparable. His mother and father spent Shepards last moments by his side. Judy Shepard, the mother, described her son as being “all bandaged, face swollen, stitches everywhere,” in an ABC News interview.

Matthew Shepard had been out for years before his tragic death and his parents were very accepting and in a sense, naive to the dangers their son was then put at risk. As the family had been traveling in mostly Saudi Arabia, Matthew was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland. On a field trip in high school, Shepard was beaten and raped which is believed to have been the cause of his sudden spiral into depression. Throughout his short life, he had been hospitalized for his depression and suicidal tendencies. It was later discovered that Shepard tested positive for HIV while in the hospital.

McKinney and Henderson had originally planned to only rob Matthew Shepard but ended up beating him in the process. Shepard was lured from a bar where the two assailants acted like gay men to gain his attention and then kidnap him. After beating, torturing and robbing Shepard, they left him tied to a fence to die in freezing temperatures.

If it wasn’t for Aaron Kreifels, Shepard may have not been found when he was and the men responsible may not have been held accountable.

Today thousands mourn for the Shepard family as we remember the tragedy of the murder of Matthew Shepard. This atrocity left a hole in every member of the LGBT+ community’s hearts when they heard of what happened and how often individuals are the target of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes. Joyce Guo, a very active member of the community, was “appalled but not surprised” that a crime like this could be committed.

When Guo was asked what advice they would give to LGBT+ youth, they said to “be safe, be cautious, but try not to let that stop you from finding your people and letting yourself live and love them.”

Erase Hate Heart

The Matthew Shepard Foundation hopes to prevent further crimes from being committed against the community. The foundation also hopes to spread love and acceptance through programs aimed at helping the LGBT+ youth find their place in the world and relocating their meanings if lost.

Eleanor Roosevelt High School participated in the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s “Erase Hate” campaign by writing out motivations and affirmations for LGBT+ youth and their allies. Students were offered to read Matthew Shepard’s story and then fill out and “Erase Hate Heart.”