CHARLOTTE — Ten years ago this month, a brutal attack left a gay University of Wyoming student dead. That man, Matthew Shepard, became a symbol for years to come of the end result of unbridled anti-LGBT prejudice and hate. His mother, family, friends and fellow students have spoken out for years on the need to increase education efforts, provide safe schools, pass LGBT-inclusive hate crimes legislation and more.
During the second weekend of November, two Charlotte-based groups and the Matthew Shepard Foundation will come together to present a “Stop the Hate” training retreat and honor the memory of the slain, 21-year-old student in a concert featuring Jason & deMarco, Randi Driscoll and Charlotte’s One Voice Chorus directed by Gerald Gurss.
Originally founded in 2001 as a simple, go-to resource website, Charlottean Shane Windmeyer’s Campus Pride and Stop the Hate have grown into immense national resources for LGBT and straight ally college students yearning for a chance to make their world a better and safer place.
“I was getting frustrated that in the national movement, national organizations were not taking on issues for youth,” Windmeyer told Q-Notes of his original ideas for Campus Pride. “There was no impetus for youth to be meaningfully involved in this LGBT organizations. I worked with some colleges to create CampusPrideNet, the original website, to be an online network to help colleges and students that didn’t have access to an LGBT center on campus. It was a way for them to go online and find resources they could use.”
By 2005, Windmeyer said the website had grown so much and experienced so much success, that he and a few colleagues decided creating a new, national non-profit would be the best way to continue reaching out.
When he and his colleagues set their course, they kept one idea in the forefront of their minds: Develop signature programs that actually make a difference.
“Students sometimes never build their foundation,” Windmeyer said of his group’s holistic leader approach to education and training. “You have to have a foundation to understand social justice work. Being a leader isn’t just about being a leader to get a policy passed. It is about understanding who you are. That is the goal — to look at the holistic leader, so that when they do become a leader of a company, a church or other group, they are able to be a leader with a strong foundation.”
According to Windmeyer, the Stop the Hate program is one of many unique ways to involve a wide array of student interests and coalitions in creating safe schools. In the past, he said, religiously-affiliated student organizations have even worked with LGBT student groups to present on-campus Stop the Hate trainings.
At UNC-Charlotte, the training will equip student leaders from across the East Coast to return to their campuses and institute changes for increased student safety and inclusion.
Perception v. Experience
Despite what most people think, the world of academia isn’t always progressive or protective of LGBT students’ interests.
There are nearly 2500 four-year public and private institutions of higher education in the nation. Only 600 of them include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies. Only 120 or so institutions include gender-identity or gender-expression in their policies and just slight bit more have resources like an LGBT student center, resource office or official faculty advisor.
Windmeyer said that his group has estimated only about half of all colleges and universities nationwide have a student-run resource, such as a gay-straight alliance or other LGBT student group. That number is significantly lower for religiously-affiliated colleges that actively discriminate against openly gay students and faculty.
The gap between perception of a campus climate and student and faculty experiences is what guides Windmeyer and Campus Pride when they compile statistical information on campus safety.
The Campus Pride LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index compiles information gathered by students, faculty members and researchers ranks educational institutions on the inclusiveness of their policies relating to educational opportunity, student activities, housing and more.
While some colleges have a plethora of LGBT-friendly policies, contributing to a perception that the campus climate will be safe for LGBT students, many students have said their actual experiences on campus are quite different.
“I tell people that it is one thing to have a policy and another to actually live that policy,” Windmeyer said. “A lot of campuses have taken LGBT affirming stances, but they haven’t taken it to the next level and put it into action.”
Campus Pride is currently working on a way to address student concerns and experiences which often conflict with a campus’ written policies.
“Students are going to have a different perspective regardless of what programs, policies and practices their schools have,” Windmeyer said.
Windmeyer said Campus Pride is currently working to build a bigger presence nationally, including offering summer leadership camps in conjunction with the Human Rights Campaign and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. They are also reaching out to build strong LGBT leadership among the many gay and lesbian students who are members of university fraternity and sorority programs. A new national, youth leadership award program has also been started.
Aside from leadership building and networking, Campus Pride, Stop the Hate and other affiliated programs are offering ways for students to continue the movement that ensued after the death of Matthew Shepard. Above all else, making schools and communities safer for LGBT students is the utmost goal. Working with groups like the Matthew Shepard Foundation is a way to accomplish it.
Windmeyer concludes, “Students want to go to a campus where they don’t have to hide the fact they are gay, or have gay families, or don’t feel safe.”
— The Stop the Hate Concert, The Legacy of Matthew Shepard, will take place on Friday, Nov. 7 at UNC-Charlotte’s Rowe Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets are $30, with a special student rate of $15. Proceeds will benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Campus Pride. For more information and to buy ticks visit www.stopthehate.org/concert/.
North Carolina Remembers
A student at the University of Wyoming, Shepard also had his North Carolina connections. After graduation from high school, Shepard briefly attended Catawba College in Salisbury. It was there where young filmmaker and North Carolinian Tim Kirkman interviewed Shepard and a friend for his film project, “Dear Jesse,” which explored the late Sen. Jesse Helms’ history of run-ins with the LGBT community.
After Shepard’s death, Kirkman remembered the interview and added the footage to the end of his fim.
“The sheer brutality of Matthew Shepard’s murder brought the reality of gay-bashing into America’s living rooms,” Kirkman told The Seattle Times in 1999, “but seeing Matthew as he was – a vibrant young man — will serve to humanize this tragedy.”
Proving that the world, indeed, is a very small place, the current chancellor of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Dr. Philip Dubois, was the president of the University of Wyoming when Shepard was killed.
In a writing recollecting his time at the helm of the university during the Shepard killing and its aftermath, Dubois wrote, “…Laramie was like most small towns and large cities in America. Hate does not have a geographic bias; it could, and did, happen everywhere.”
At an Oct. 7 lecture at UNC-Charlotte, 10 years to the day Shepard was attacked, Dubois spoke briefly about Shepard’s murder and presided over a long and sincere moment of silence before introducing former Human Rights Campaign executive director Elizabeth Birch.