In what has been described as a galvanizing moment for America's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, 21-year-old college student Matthew Shepard died 13 years ago today -- five days after being brutally attacked, robbed and beaten into a coma by two men who are believed to have targeted him for his sexual orientation.
Years before The Trevor Project and many other LGBT-focused organizations became prominent, Shepard's 1998 death thrust hate crimes, particularly those involving youth, into the national spotlight with a fervor that had never been seen previously. "It is a murder that seems to have aroused the deepest decent sympathies of the nation, a case in which law, religion, love, dignity and politics all seem on the side of a dead young gay man," one columnist wrote in The New York Times at the time of Shepard's funeral. "It is a rare moment, and politicians and preachers had better take a lesson."
Now, more than a decade later, Shepard's legacy lives on both in the LGBT community and beyond. In 2000, the case served as the basis for the play and subsequent film "The Laramie Project," followed by a 2009 companion piece, "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later," both of which continue to generate controversy when performed. On Oct. 22, 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the 1969 United States federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, after numerous setbacks. "After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we've passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray, or who they are," President Obama said at the time. "I promised Judy Shepard [Matthew's mother], when she saw me in the Oval Office, that this day would come, and I'm glad that she and her husband Dennis could join us for this event."
View a timeline of Shepard's case below and read Judy Shepard's reflection on the death of her son here: