Matthew Shepard’s family share powerful message for LGBTQ+ community with hate crime at all-time high

Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard’s family have urged LGBTQ+ people to be “proud of being your whole self”, 25 years on from the student’s brutal murder. 

Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student from Wyoming, was brutally killed in a homophobic hate crime in 1988. With anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes rising, his parents have addressed the community, telling queer people: “Don’t give up.”

Shepard was attacked on Tuesday 6 October 1998 by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who beat and tortured him before leaving him for dead, tied to a fence near Laramie in rural Wyoming. He died six days later. 

Speaking to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Shepard’s parents shared a hopeful message for the LGBTQ+ community in the face of mounting bigotry, saying: “We’re here for you, we’ve always been here for you.

“We know the trans community is feeling under attack right now, particularly trans kids,” they added.

“Just stay positive, because you are a part of this country and part of all of the communities that you are involved in, and you should be proud of the fact that you are being your whole self, good for you.”

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Shepard’s murder in 1988 remains one of the most horrific and notorious homophobic hate crimes in US history, with his death marked by an outpouring of grief, including candlelit vigils across the country. 

Two months after their son was murdered, Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis, founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which remains active today, advocating for dignity and equality of all people, and tackling hate crime.  

In October 2009, then-president Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The legislation permits federal-level prosecutions for crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability.

Candlelight vigil for Matthew Shepard. (Steve Liss/Getty Images)

Marking the 25th anniversary of Shepard’s death, LGBTQ+ organisations, activists and politicians alike called for a crackdown on hate crimes, with reports finding that anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes are increasing in the US. 

Shepard’s family have previously condemned rising hate crime, with Dennis Shepard telling PinkNews in March: “If you don’t study history, you will repeat it … If you’re docile, you deserve what you get. And I can’t – I will not – allow myself to be docile.”

President Joe Biden also remembered Shepard on the 25th anniversary of his death, writing on X (formerly Twitter): “Twenty-five years ago today, Matthew Shepard lost his life to a brutal act of anti-gay hate and violence simply for being himself. 

“His murder shook the conscience of the American people. And his courageous parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, turned Matthew’s memory into a movement. 

“Our work will not be finished until we end the hate and violence that too many LGBTQI+ Americans continue to face.”

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.