WASHINGTON, D.C. — Matthew Shepard, a young man who was tied to a fence, beaten and tortured in 1998 in a field near Laramie, Wyo. will have his cremains interred in the National Cathedral in Washington on Oct. 26.
Until now, the family had not found a place that they felt safe enough to lay their son’s ashes to rest, CNN reported. The family did not want him buried in Wyoming because they did not want his grave to be a point of pilgrimage and vandalism. Shepard’s death became a “rallying point” for the gay rights movement. NBC News reported that he would be buried alongside notable Americans, including Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller.
Presiding over the service will be Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson. Robinson was the first openly gay priest to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church, CNN reported.
Following Shepard’s death, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Oct. 28, 2009, expanding on the “1969 federal hate-crime law to include crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity or disability,” Associated Press News (AP) reported.
However, there are now “mixed feelings by LGBT and anti-violence organizations that lobbied over nearly a decade for its passage.” As of this past summer, the law has served to indict 88 defendants in 42 hate crimes cases, but only 64 of those ended with convictions. AP shared that some activists were disappointed by the low numbers, but the Human Rights Campaign’s Government Affairs Director David Stacy considered it successful “because of its role in motivating state and local prosecutors to take anti-LGBT violence more seriously.”
NBC News reported that even 20 years after the attack of Shepard, the LGBTQ community is still battling hate violence. Currently, 15 states have no LGBTQ protections and five states (including South Carolina) have no hate crimes legislation at all, NBC News added. The news source also reported that Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew, had expressed her anger, saying, “We made such progress, and now it’s being tossed aside.” In particular, she is upset with the Trump administration, which has made efforts to pull back on hard-earned LGBTQ protections. There has been a rise in hate-related homicides by 86 percent in 2017 from 2016 numbers. The Human Rights Campaign attributes this to “anti-LGBTQ political rhetoric.” At the center of the epidemic are transgender women of color.
AP reported that Judy Shepard and others have indicated that the law had been helpful, but hopes that law enforcement agencies would be required to report hate crimes to federal authorities and that officers should be provided with better training. Anti-violence projects and programs have been started across the U.S., but that is not enough. Shifts in attitudes about violence and hate crimes is essential in staving off the perpetuating and rising case load.
A number of years ago, Campus Pride initiated its “Stop the Hate” campus bias and hate crimes prevention program as a way to address the issue at higher educational institutions. It serves to train and educate those at colleges and universities on ways to fight back against hate while fostering community development. This is only one example of programs that are now available to stem the tide of violence.