Seventeen years ago on Oct. 12, Matthew Shepard died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, six days after he was severely beaten in Laramie, Wyoming, because of his sexuality. Sunday, members of the Fort Collins community gathered with candles to commemorate his significance for the LGBT community.
Matthew Shepard was left to die by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson Oct. 6, 1998. Shepard was seen leaving a bar that night with the two men and later found by a biker that mistook him for a scarecrow. Tied to a fence with serious head wounds, Shepard was rushed to Poudre Valley Hospital.
While it was argued that the attack began over a drug dispute, it became clear through media coverage that this was a hate crime. Northern Colorado Pride and others held a vigil to recognize that although Matthew Shepard is gone, his memory and the importance of what happened to him is not forgotten.
“Be careful, be vigilant, be aware of your surroundings,” Craig Chapin said to the group, recalling the atmosphere back in ‘98. Chapin was at the first vigils held for Shepard soon after the attack, and Chapin remembers the gay community struggling between hiding their sexuality and embracing it.
Kimberly Chambers, founder of Northern Colorado Pride, described a similar experience after finding out about a transgender individual being murdered in Greeley in 2008. However, despite growing fear, the community continued to rise above the opposition and has acknowledged the support they received across America and from Fort Collins residents.
“CSU and the community really stepped up,” Chapin said about an incident with a Colorado State University fraternity and sorority on campus soon after Shepard’s death. The students created float for the University’s homecoming parade that displayed a scarecrow tied to a fence. Although Chapin believes the students did not do this to be disrespectful, he said he is glad CSU recognized the significance and impact of this act.
Those gathered at the vigil recognized that the LGBT community has a long way to go in terms of equality, but many said they are hopeful for the future.
In 2009, a federal hate crime law was expanded, outlawing hate crimes directed at the LGBT community.
“The event would become one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history and spawned an activist movement that, more than a decade later, would result in the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act,” according to the Matthew Shepard Foundation website.
“You never know you’re interacting with, especially when you’re dealing with hidden identity, such as sexual preference, it’s important to be accepting,” according to a LGBT Resource Center statement. “Whether you’re queer, questioning or somewhere in between, it’s important for everyone to feel safe in their community, and Matthew’s community specifically highlights the importance of being authentic.”
Collegian Reporter Gina Spoden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @gina_spoden5.