Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten for being gay in 1998 in Wyoming. Anti-gay or anti-LGBT attacks were the most frequent types of hate crimes last year in several big cities.
Two decades after the 1998 death of Matthew Shepard — who was brutally beaten for being gay in one of the most heinous hate crimes in American history — some progress has occurred toward LGBTQ equality, but obstacles remain, advocates say. The 21-year-old college student was abducted on Oct. 7, 1998 and driven to a remote area east of Laramie, Wy., where he was tied to a fence, beaten with the butt of a pistol and left to die. Almost 18 hours later, he was found by a bicyclist who at first mistook him for a scarecrow. The case set off a wave of protests and activism that led to the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal hate crime laws to include attacks motivated by a victim’s gender or sexual orientation, the New York Daily News reports. His attackers, who pretended to be gay to lure Shepard, will spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
Since Shepard’s death, his friends and family have honored his legacy by fighting to enact anti-hate crime legislation and protect minority populations through the Matthew Shepard Foundation. While significant strides have been made for the LGBT population over two decades, a tremendous amount of work remains to be done, said the foundation’s Jason Marsden. Employers in many states are legally protected to fire employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Cyberbullying requires fresh thinking about how to protect minority populations, he said. Reported hate crimes, which rose 12 percent in the 10 largest U.S. cities in 2017, remain a cause for concern. The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, says anti-gay or anti-LGBT attacks accounted for the most frequent types of hate crimes last year in Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Detroit.