Watch the trailer for the emotional new documentary exploring the life and legacy of Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard in a still from the Matthew Shepard Story: An American Hate Crime documentary.

A moving new documentary will explore the life and legacy of Matthew Shepard, 25 years after his death in what remains one of the most horrendous homophobic hate crimes in modern history.

Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was just 21 years old when he was brutally beaten and left for dead in the US state on 6 October 1998. He was pronounced dead six days later, on 12 October.

On 9 October this year, marking 25 years since his death, a new two-hour documentary will premiere, honouring his life and reflecting on how the murder marked a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

Matthew’s parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, set up the Matthew Shepard Foundation in his memory. The foundation works to educate on LGBTQ+ inclusion and advocate for equal rights.

Their fight was instrumental in the formation of the 2009 Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which introduced federal-level protections for crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability.

In the new documentary Matthew Shepard Story: An American Hate Crime, airing on Investigation Discovery, Matthew’s friends, local journalists and members of the queer community will reflect on how his story created change and forced America to reckon with its deep-rooted homophobia.

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Queer celebrities including singer Adam Lambert, comedian Rosie O’Donnell and The Book of Mormon star Andrew Rannells will also recall how the murder affected them.

In the new trailer, O’Donnell shares how deeply moved she was by the Matthew Shepard story, telling the camera: “I was devastated by Matthew’s death. My soul ached.”

Lambert adds that the murder “reminded [him of] how much hate there is out there”.

While the documentary film will retrace the steps forward that the queer community has made in the past 25 years, it will also highlight the increasing amount of anti-LGBTQ+ hate directed at queer people today.

Gay panic defence
The murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 is one of the most famous cases of the ‘gay panic’ defence being used. (Evan Agostini/Getty)

In the US this year, hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been floated by politicians in Republican states including Florida, Texas and Tennessee. Many of the proposed laws target trans youth and drag performers.

Homophobic and transphobic hate crimes remain an issue in the US, too. In 2023 alone, more than a dozen trans and gender non-conforming people have been murdered, while just last month, mother and LGBTQ+ ally Laura Ann Carleton was shot dead after raising a Pride flag outside her business in California.

On the other side of the pond in the UK, officials across the political divide appear committed to using anti-trans dog whistles to stir up hatred against the community, while London has seen a number of high-profile, anti-LGBTQ+ attacks in recent weeks. 

Earlier this year, Matthew’s father Dennis spoke exclusively to PinkNews about his son’s legacy, and how the current wave of anti-trans hatred could lead to a “repeat” of history.

Matthew Shepard Dennis Shepard
Dennis Shepard, who features in new film The Dads, holds a photo of his son Matthew Shepard. (Supplied)

“He was murdered, because he was gay … We lost our son Matt to the same kind of language and violence and discrimination,” he said of the anti-trans rhetoric today.

“What we went through then [is] what the parents of transgender kids are going through now, all the vitriol and the violence, and the proposal of laws – and the signing of laws, in many cases – against the transgender community.”

Speaking about the need for the new documentary, president of Investigation Discovery Jason Salanis said he hoped to “educate a whole new generation”.

“Matthew’s story remains just as heart wrenching and relevant today as it was 25 years ago,” he said in a statement.

“This tragedy ignited an incredibly emotional and influential chapter in the fight against LGBTQ+ discrimination that brought great progress. By revisiting Matthew’s story, we hope to educate a whole new generation and underscore the power love and acceptance play in continuing the fight against violence and discrimination in all its forms.”

Matthew Shepard Story: An American Hate Crime airs on 9 October, 9pm to 11pm ET/PT on Investigation Discovery.

Anyone who has witnessed or experienced a hate crime is urged to call the police on 101, Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit the True Vision website. In an emergency, always dial 999.

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