For 10 years I’ve quietly watched the LGBT Community and Judy Shepard struggle to receive equal rights and protection from hate crimes, following the painful death of her oldest son Matt. It was an event that was life changing for many people of all walks of life. If you do not know the story then here is a brief over view.
In 1998 Judy Shepard and her family were thrown into the media spotlight following the brutal murder of her oldest son Matt. It is a case that has brought sexual orientation and hate crimes to the fore front of political, personal and religious arguments around the world. Letters of support came pouring into the Shepard family from all over the world. They came from families who didn’t care about Matthew being gay, they just saw a family in need after an event that should never have happened in the 20th century. People of the LGBT community and allies alike-formed candle light vigils and prayer services. It was an event that made people talk and discuss the topic of homosexuality it doesn’t matter if people agreed or not. It is a topic that has been ignored for centuries, and it took a tragic event in a tiny town in an under-populated state to bring it into classrooms, churches, places of work and politics. Finally.
In 1998 I have to admit that I had no idea what the HRC, LGBT, GLAAD and any other organization that had an acronym for dealing with civil rights for people of a different sexual orientation or gender identity. In all honesty it was a topic that wasn’t discussed and I didn’t know about because I myself was straight. Well that’s not an acceptable excuse anymore. Even if you are straight, the topics surrounding the LGBT and hate crimes legislation are a very important topic. It is 2008, an election year, and we need to know that constitution is still as important as it was at the creation of the country, the reason our ancestors fled here from other countries is to be protected no matter their skin color, religion or who they loved.
In the last 10 years I have learned a lot about the LGBT community and met many new friends and many people who have influenced and opened my mind to new things and ideas. I admit I have not learned as much as I had wanted, but nothing in life goes the way you want it. That is why I have come to work for the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
I felt that as a straight ally I might have a voice that is new to the public and to other people that have always wanted to help but do not know how to contribute to the cause. It is very important that allies step up support and let their voices be heard. In this age of technology where knowledge is just a ‘click’ away I feel that there is no better time than now; in an election year to make sure that “Everyone” is protected from hate crimes and has the right to love whom they choose and live their life in happiness. An attack of racism, bigotry, and homophobia does not just attack individuals it attacks communities. Individuals create the whole and when individuals are attacked it hurts the entire community.
Most people have friends that are out of their race, religion, sexual orientation and the question to you is; what will do if your childhood friend, roommate, sibling, relative or even a polite neighbor down the hall that held the door open for you are beaten or killed for being “different”? Will you stand by as an individual and be scared that it could happen to you or come together as a community and protect the rest of your loved ones and work to erasing hate and teaching love and tolerance, of those around you. Hate is a learned emotion it is an infection that is spread by ignorance. Even if you don’t agree with the views of those in your community, having an open mind and discussing important topics are a necessity in growing as a human being, even if in the end you say, “I don’t agree with that view.” At least you listened and you are a better person for being empathetic.
I am here as a person of experience to try and tell people its ok to be an ally, it is ok to step up for what you believe in, it is ok to protect those people that you love. Before jumping to conclusions about something or someone you know nothing about, ask them questions; it is better to ask dumb questions than be scared and ignorant of what you don’t know. I think its time for a change and that’s why I’m finally here. My name is Logan Shepard and Matt was my older brother.