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Hear Matthew Shepard In His Own Words In This Touching New Film

 

Seventeen years after his tragic death, Matthew Shepard continues to serve as a symbol of the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth across the country, inspiring films, plays and books.

Now, a new documentary is taking a no-holds-barred look at the young man and the enduring impact his too-short life continues to have on the global fight against bullying. “Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine,” which is directed by Michele Josue, features interviews with some of Shepard’s closest friends, family members and confidantes. The film uses the slain University of Wyoming student’s personal journal entries to give viewers insight into his life.

“I’m here because I’m depressed and confused,” Shepard writes in one entry, as seen in the clip above. “I hope to be un-depressed. I have learned that failure is not always bad, and that it is necessary. I want to go to college and succeed, I want my life to be happy.”

In a separate segment, Shepard’s father, Dennis, recalls the moment his son first came out as gay to him.

 

“I think he thought I’d start yelling and screaming and fall over in a faint, but it didn’t matter, he was still my son,” Dennis says. “Matt is my son; he always will be.”

“Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine” airs July 27 on Logo. Head here for more details

17 Years After Matthew Shepard's Murder, Laramie Passes LGBT Protections

The city became the first in Wyoming to adopt an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

Reprinted from the Advoate – BY TRUDY RING

MAY 14 2015 4:45 PM ET

In 1998 gay college student Matthew Shepard as brutally beaten and left for dead on a fence like this one near Laramie.In 1998 gay college student Matthew Shepard as brutally beaten and left for dead on a fence like this one near Laramie.

The town where Matthew Shepard became the victim of a deadly antigay hate crime in 1998 — Laramie, Wyo., — has become the first municipality in the state to adopt an LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination law.

The Laramie City Council passed the ordinance last night by a vote of 7-2, the Associated Press reports. It bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and it sets up a process for filing discrimination complaints, which the city will then investigate. The ordinance will go into effect by the end of this month.

“What a day for Wyoming, and what a day for the city that became synonymous with Matthew Shepard’s murder to now step up and do this right thing,” Jeran Artery, head of the LGBT rights group Wyoming Equality, told the AP. “And I would really encourage other communities across the state to follow Laramie’s lead.”

Efforts to enact a similar law on a statewide basis have failed repeatedly, most recently inFebruary. “I’m thrilled that Laramie’s [adopting an antidiscrimination law], at the same time sort of saddened that the state of Wyoming can’t see fit to do that as well,” Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, told the AP. “Maybe the rest of Wyoming will understand this is about fellow human beings and not something that’s other than what they are.”

Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, was beaten and left for dead on a fence on the outskirts of town by two men he met in a bar. He died a few days later at a hospital in Colorado. His death became a rallying point for LGBT rights activists, and federal hate-crimes law bears his name as well as that of James Byrd Jr., an African-American murdered in a racially motivated attack in Texas, also in 1998.

Judy Shepard, a longtime Wyoming resident, said her son’s murder doesn’t indicate that Wyoming residents are generally homophobic, but acting more quickly on hate-crimes law could have improved the state’s reputation. “I feel like if Wyoming had done more to open the door to acceptance, that kind of reputation would have disappeared very quickly,” she told the AP. “Instead of taking advantage of the moment, they just sort of turned around and ran.”

State Rep. Kendall Kroeker, who voted against the statewide antidiscrimination bill, objected to the crime being brought into the discussion. “The Matt Shepard case was a tragedy, but I don’t see how an antidiscrimination ordinance would have stopped somebody from committing that heinous crime,” he told the news service. Kroeker was also one of several Wyoming legislators who signed onto a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject marriage equality, claiming it would interfere with citizens’ free speech rights.

The two Laramie council members who voted against the local antidiscrimination ordinance said they worried it would interfere with religious freedom, the AP reports. “Enactment of this ordinance will result in discrimination complaints filed against business owners who are simply trying to run their business consistent with their faith,” said one of them, Joe Vitale.

The Real Matthew Shepherd

Over the years we have reported on various productions of the The Laramie Project and its sequel, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later when they have been produced in Northern Ireland by local artists , and when they have been shown in movie houses or we have been lucky enough to see them on DVD,  A new movie has just been released which has a new focus on Matthew, and brings out a fuller picture of his life and who he was.  We are reproducing the article as it appears in the ADVOCATE and we will write a review of the story and movie when we have an opportunity to see it, as it is currently on release in the USA.

 

Getting to Know the Real Matthew Shepard

Shepard’s father and the director of a new documentary talk about why it’s important that we remember him.

BY TRUDY RING

MARCH 02 2015 8:00 AM ET

Matthew Shepard with Michele Josue

Matthew Shepard with Michele Josue

1998 doesn’t seem that long ago, but in many ways the world was different. For one thing, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no YouTube — but one young man’s story caught the attention of the nation in a way that today would be called “going viral.”

The young man was Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay college student who was viciously beaten by two men he’d met in a bar and left hanging on a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo., then died a few days later at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colo. His death increased the awareness of antigay hate crimes and became a rallying point for supporters of LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes laws and other gay rights measures.

The new documentary film Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, produced and directed by Matthew’s onetime schoolmate Michele Josue, seeks to let audiences know there were so many things important about Matthew beyond the way he died — and also to make sure that his life and death are not forgotten.

Matthew Shepard with his parents“The young people in the gay community today are having freedoms that he never had,” says his father, Dennis Shepard, on a recent visit to Los Angeles for the film’s opening. “They don’t understand that, especially the very young people, because they don’t know who Matt was. People from 12 on are the activists today.”

Matthew, his father says, would be amazed to see the advances in LGBT rights that have taken place since his death. Among those are the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009, which commits federal resources to investigate and prosecute crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, gender, and other factors. Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, worked tirelessly to get the law passed, her husband notes.

Then there are advances in marriage equality, state-level antidiscrimination laws, the proliferation of gay-straight alliances in schools, and more. Also, Dennis Shepard says, “He would just be thrilled to see how open and relaxed the young people are. They just don’t understand what the issue is” with being gay.

But other factors — the persistence of homophobia among some segments of the population, the need to pass federal nondiscrimination protections, and the backlash against LGBT progress, with “license to discriminate” laws and calls to defy pro-equality court rulings — make it crucial to remember Matthew’s story, say his father and the filmmaker.

“It’s important for people to kind of reengage with the outrage we all had then,” says Josue. “Matt’s story is not unique … there are a lot of Matt Shepards out there who still need support and validation.”

Matthew Shepard with Michele JosueSome observers have wondered why Matthew’s death resonated with the public so much more than any other homophobic hate crime. To Josue, “The egregiousness of the crime … created such a haunting image that still stays with people and affects people all these years later.”

That’s part of it, says his father, plus Matthew’s everyman quality — he was a young man of many interests, who loved hunting and fishing as well as theater and politics, who was intelligent and multilingual, who made friends easily. “Somebody everywhere could relate to a part of him,” Dennis Shepard says.

There are those who wonder, though, if his death commanded attention partly because he was a white, attractive, middle-class college student, not, say, a black transgender sex worker. To this, Josue responds, “Matt never asked to be the face of the gay rights movement, but for whatever reason, he is. And if it sheds some light on what’s happening to others, in the trans community as well, so be it.”

And before he became the face of a movement, he was a son, a brother, a friend, and that’s what Josue wants to show the world through her film. “He changed me in many ways,” says the filmmaker, who attended school in Switzerland with Matthew when his family was living in Saudi Arabia because of Dennis’s job (there was no high school for Matthew to attend there). “He taught me what it is to be a true friend. He was so extroverted and just truly loved people. He never met a stranger. I looked up to him and how he treated other people. In his death I couldn’t reconcile how something so horrible could happen to such a tenderhearted and kind person. It taught me to be a better ally and just stand up for all the Matt Shepards out there.”

The film recounts Matthew’s experiences at the school, his earlier years in Casper, Wyo., and some of the darker times of his life, as when, after being sexually assaulted while traveling in Morocco, he went into a period of depression and isolation, his gregariousness diminished.

Both of Shepard’s parents appear in the movie, as do many other people who knew him. Talking about Matthew was sometimes painful for them, Josue says, “but I think everyone, all his close friends, his teachers, his family were all very willing to share the Matt that we remembered and that we cherished.”

She adds, “I often compare it to reopening some very old wounds that never healed properly. So there’s a lot of tears, of course, but you know, there are also some really joyful moments when we were able to reminisce and remember little things about Matt that we had forgotten over time.”

Matthew’s brother, Logan, who is now 34, declined to participate in the film. “He’s very introverted like Judy and he’s more of an advocate behind the scenes,” Dennis Shepard says, adding that Logan is deeply involved with antibullying efforts and all the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, set up by the family to advocate for LGBT equality through a variety of programs.

The film, Dennis notes, is very honest. He says it’s one of four accounts of Matthew’s life and death that are totally honest, the others being Judy’s book, The Meaning of Matthew, and the playsThe Laramie Project and its sequel, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. He and Josue dismiss as “totally bogus” the accounts that claim Matthew’s murder was not motivated by his killers’ homophobia but was instead the result of a drug deal gone bad. “We just ignore it because those who want to believe something that strange and odd will believe it,” he says.

Part of the movie’s honesty, he says, is making clear that Matthew “had failures and successes like everybody else.” He continues, “I think it’s important for young people to know that you’ll have good times and bad times.” The knowledge that some young people despair over the bad times to the point of suicide, he says, “just scares me to death.”

He and his wife, with their son and other allies, are working hard to keep other young LGBT people from despairing. One of the foundation’s projects is Matthew’s Place, an online community for LGBT youth, many of whom find little support in their families or schools.

Dennis and Judy’s work also includes visiting schools — this spring they’ll be talking to junior high students in San Francisco who are reading The Laramie Project — and, under the aegis of the U.S. State Department, traveling overseas to speak about Matthew and LGBT rights. They’ve been to 18 countries to date.

In a way, that effort is carrying out one of Matthew’s ambitions. “His goal was to go out and improve the world,” Dennis says. “He really loved this country and he thought those ideals should be taken everywhere.”

And continuing to tell his story, as through Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, is important to any effort to improve the world for LGBT people, his father says. That the film will be edited into an educational version for schools is just critical,” he says. Young people, he explains, “need to understand that they’re standing on the shoulders of what Matt did, what happened to Matt, who is standing on the shoulders of what happened to Harvey Milk, who was standing on the shoulders of Stonewall.”

“History repeats itself,” he adds, “unless you educate and teach. And I think that’s what this film does.”

 

Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine is playing in theaters around the country. Click here to find a screening near you, and watch the trailer below.

15 years after Matthew Shepard: so much achieved for gay rights, but so much more to do

I remember reading my copy of Gay Times about the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. At the time I ended up in tears, and this evening re-reading about the murder, looking at photographs of those responsible as well as of that infamous fence in the State of Wyoming and the well known family photo of Matthew. The Matthew Shepard Foundation posted the following status on Facebook, and I feel that we should spread it wider.

1243162_595280560534122_1768961158_o“15 years ago this evening, Matthew Shepard was driven from the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming to the outskirts of the city by two strangers who did not like that he was gay. They tied him to a fence, beat him with the butt of a gun, and left him for dead.

“The Casper Star Tribune, Matthew’s hometown newspaper, ran a beautiful story of the contradictions Wyoming still has in the acceptance and treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“These contradictions parallel those at the national and international level as well. Just because same-sex couples can get married in 13 states and the District of Columbia doesn’t mean that these couples don’t have to think about their rights when they go on vacation. Or get transferred for work and move to one of the 29 states in which you can be fired for being gay, 33 for being transgender.

“While progress has been made over the last 15 years, we have a long way to go before we have true, meaningful equality.”

— Matthew Shepard Foundation Facebook page

So much achieved, yet so much still to do

So much has been achieved for gay rights across the world in the years since Matthew’s cruel death, but we have still so much to do. Fifteen years on, the same homophobia seen in Wyoming in 1998 is very much alive and well here in Northern Ireland.

  • A man had his nose broken nose during a homophobic assault on the Dublin to Belfast train between Newry and Portadown in December 2012. (Belfast Telegraph)
  • Henry McDonald wrote in the Guardian that the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland found in some research that 80% of homophobic attacks here in Northern Ireland are not reported.
  • Thug jailed for homophobic attack in Belfast gay bar reported in the Belfast Telegraph in June 2013
  • In September three men admitted the manslaughter of Andrew Lorimer in Lurgan in what is a suspected homophobic attack.
  • A drug addict took a legal high before he attacked a man and shouted homophobic abuse at him, a court heard in July 2013. (BBC News)

The cases illustrated above are those which have made it into a quick search on Google. I am sure that there have been many more homophobic incidents since this time last year. As the Police Service of Northern Ireland has said in the past,

“Hate crime is unacceptable, no one deserves to experience it and no one deserves to get away with it. To stop it, report it, do not suffer in silence.”

It is clear to me that we must continue to stand up for our rights, not just against homophobic attacks but the anti-gay policies of the DUP health minister, Edwin Poots, who seems to be leading a new crusade against our rights in his relentless appeals against decisions of the Northern Irish Courts relating to the Gay Blood Ban, and Adoption by Gay Couples.

Anyone interested in working towards full equality for all who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, please get in touch and help stand alongside our brothers and sisters in the Matthew Shepard Foundation working to ‘Erase Hate’ now.

'The Laramie Project'

The Matthew Shepard Story

The Matthew Shepard Story

The story of Matthew Shepard
Location and Time:  Thursday 1st August 2012, the Metropolitan Arts Centre theatre; an intimate theatre of approximately 112 seats.

The play was ‘The Laramie Project’ which was written by Moses Kaufmann and members of the Tyectonic Theater Project, but our production was performed and orchestrated by the Dundonald Association of Music and Drama (DAMD) sponsored by the Police Service of N Ireland (PSNI) and The Rainbow Project.
The Laramie Project is a verbatim play about the reaction to the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998; The Angels during the rallyhe was a young gay man who was robbed, viciously beaten and left tied to a fence to die. Although he was soon found by the police and hospitalized, he soon expired.  Matthew was a student in Laramie, Wyoming and this play is based on a series of interviews conducted with Laramie residents in the aftermath of his murder.  Matthew’s murder focused attention on the lack of hate crime legislation in various states including Wyoming.
DAMD were formed in July 2009 by Melissa Smith.  DAMD’s artistic mission is to engage their community in theatre that makes you think or blink with tears).  ‘If we can inspire, nurture, challenge, amaze, educate or empower artists and audiences b y providing a quality performing arts experience then we retire happily with our bedtime cocoa.’

The stage setting consisted of eight chairs with a ‘goodies’ box beside each containing various individual props, and a stand for the presenter who guided us through the performance.
The performance was riveting, and it indeed did bring this audience member to tears as he remembered the harrowing news items from the time, and how utterly soul destroying the story was as it unfolded, including the trial.  The subsequent theatre production and also the movie release with of the Laramie Project and also the Matthew Shepard Story with Sam Waterston as the father of Matthew kept the story alive and in people minds, and continued to pile pressure on the USA legislature and government and local states.
DAMD’s performance was startling real, the accents were faultless ( at least to my ears), and the minimlist stage setting helped to focus attention on the dialogue, the speakers and the story.
The Laramie Project is often used as a method to teach about prejudice and tolerance in personal, social, and health education and citizenship in schools, and it has also been used in the UK as a General Certificate of Secondary Education text for English literature.  Having just been to an event during Belfast Pride about how our N Ireland Library Service for Schools is currently unable to provide the service needed for LGBT youth, and that a survey of LGBT books in school libraries only returned one item throughout Northern Ireland, it would seem that we need to put on more productions of this play, and especially try to get it seen within our school and college systems.

 

Further links:

  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Laramie_Project” blank=”true”]The Laramie Project[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Laramie_Project_%28film%29″ blank=”true”]The Laramie Project (film)[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Matthew_Shepard_Story” blank=”true”]The Matthew Shepard Story[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”camera” url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiKBv29xvS8″ blank=”true”]Youtube: The Matthew Shepard Story [/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”camera” url=”Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1qiTmF0p4A” blank=”true”]The Laramie Project[/button_icon]
  • [button_icon icon=”information” url=”http://www.laramieproject.org/” blank=”true” colour=”green”]The Laramie Project Website & Charity[/button_icon]