Left: The fence where Matthew Shepard’s body was found now hangs heavy with the flowers of mourners. Right: Mathew Shepard – His death created the “Mathew Shepard Act” in the United States that outlined strict Hate Crime legislation.
By Laura Grande
It began the day I first heard the name Matthew Shepard. It was 2001. I was still a high school student back then. One of my favourite television programs was American Justice.
The episode that day featured Shepard’s murder and the subsequent trial of his two killers. Only 21-years-old at the time of his death in 1998, the University of Wyoming student was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming. In an act of senseless cruelty, Shepard was murdered because he was homosexual.
I’d grown up in a household that believed in equality for everyone. As a child, I remember having a conversation with my mother about homosexuality and she taught me that – despite what some may say to the contrary – people should be allowed to love whoever they wanted.
For days after that American Justice episode, I read everything I could find on Shepard. I read articles about the trial. I read statements made by his family. I followed all the news involving Shepard’s brave mother, Judy – who has since written a book about her son’s murder, started the Matthew Shepard Foundation and is a vocal LGBTQ advocate. It’s women like Judy Shepard that I admire – mothers who find strength in giving a voice to their lost children.
As the years went on, I did whatever I could to support anti-bullying and anti-homophobia agendas. In high school, I helped a friend come out of the closet. The older I got, the more I realized how important it is to take a stand against ignorance and hate.
People fear what they don’t understand – therefore, to make people understand homosexuality and realize that love is never wrong is imperative in overcoming homophobia.
Although I had always strongly voiced my support of LGBTQ rights, it wasn’t until June of 2008 that it truly took shape. That was when my friend died suddenly in a car accident. He was only 21 years old.
Though we had only been friends for two years (after meeting at a restaurant we both worked at), he meant a lot to me. In only a couple short years we had formed one of those rare bonds that only occur when you’ve met someone truly special. He was my partner in crime. The ying to my yang.
He was vibrant. He was smart. He was handsome. He always made me laugh. Originally from the United States, he had faced bullying in his youth because of his sexual orientation. At the age of 15, he told his family and friends he was gay – and he never looked back. Despite the verbal attacks he faced at school, he was who he was. I admired his strength in the face of adversity.
After his death I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went to the U.S. to meet his father and sister. Although grieving, his father was a source of comfort and inspiration. He said that we couldn’t let our pain stand in the way of doing something meaningful with our lives.
The same month of his death, I returned to Toronto and went to my first Pride Parade. It was an exciting, exhilarating and loving crush of people, streamers and floats. For the first time since his death, I was able to think about him and remember the good times we shared without crying. He was supposed to have come with me to Pride on that hot summer day. I felt that he was there.
I decided to heed the advice of his father and pour my feelings into something meaningful. I didn’t want more LGBTQ youth to go through what my friend went through in school.
I’ve been a Pride Toronto volunteer for two years running now. At York University, I took queer studies courses as my electives.
Since I started the fast-track journalism program here at Centennial College, I’ve written many LGBTQ-related articles – for both school assignments and as the LGBTQ editor of the Courier.
I do it not only in memory of my friend and the struggles he once endured, but to create dialogue about LGBTQ issues and community resources.
In the last issue of the Courier, Centennial’s LGBTQ social club coordinator, Thamera Alageson, asked what it meant to be an ally.
Not only does it mean supporting gender and sexual diversity – it also means verbally standing up against the abuse and discrimination you hear in school hallways or in the workplace. To ignore it is to do more damage. These issues must be addressed. It’s not just my responsibility …it’s all of ours.
To act decently towards another human being – to reach out if they need a shoulder to lean on- is never a bad thing.
If we work together to combat hate we can avoid senseless tragedies like the one that befell Matthew Shepard twelve years ago.
CHECK IT OUT
-You can visit the Matthew Shepard Foundation website at:
There is also a related Facebook page.
Resources Centres in Toronto:
-The 519 Church Street Community Centre (at Church and Wellesley)
A welcoming place for LGBTQ communities and their allies.
-The Triangle Program
Canada’s Only Classroom for LGBTQ Youth
-Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Canada’s Home For Queer Culture