Matthew Shepard’s parents blast state of LGBTQ+ rights 25 years after his death: ‘I’m so tired of being angry’

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

The parents of Matthew Shepard have spoken out about the dire state of LGBTQ+ rights in the United States 25 years after their son was killed.

Shephard’s parents Judy and Dennis have been vocal advocates for the LGBTQ+ community ever since his devastating murder in 1998. 

The couple say that they had hoped protections and rhetoric towards LGBTQ+ people would have improved a quarter of a century later, but they’re now seeing there is still a long way to go.

Matthew was 21 years old when he was the victim of a deadly hate crime in Laramie, Wyoming.

Matthew Shepard.
Matthew Shepard died 25 years ago as a result of a horrific hate crime. (Matthew Shepard Foundation)

A student at the University of Wyoming, Shepard had been out at a bar after finishing up a meeting with an LGBTQ+ group to make plans for National Coming Out Day, when he was approached by two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.

Shepard’s father Dennis says that McKinney and Henderson pretended to be gay and invited his son to a party as a way to lure him out of the bar. The two would then go on to brutally beat and torture him before tying him to a fence and leaving him for dead. Shepard died in hospital six days later.

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The incident remains one of the most notorious anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes in US history.

Over two decades later, Dennis and Judy are sharing their son’s story “so people understand that it’s still happening and they have the power to make the change.” At the moment, though, things aren’t looking great.

“They’re still being denied basic rights, the community is, and the absolute outward showing of hate again, it’s just infuriating to me,” Judy said in a new interview with NBC’s TODAY show.

Matthew Shepard's Parents
Matthew’s parents are speaking out about LGBTQ+ rights today. (NBC’s Today Show)

This year alone, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced by Republican reps across the US, 84 of which have been signed into law, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

These include bills to restrict trans student-athletes from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, restrict trans minors from accessing gender-affirming healthcare, restrict trans students’ ability to socially transition at school, and introduce book bans that would keep titles about LGBTQ+ characters out of school libraries.

“We figured we only had a couple, three years and then go on to something else, that this wouldn’t still be going on, and we still have the same problem,” said Dennis.

Despite the recent wave of homophobic and transphobic legislation, Judy remains hopeful that, generally, things are heading in the right direction.

“All those who were fighting against the gay community, this is their last gasp,” she said.

“They know they’ve lost the war, but this battle is just the last, most vicious attack on the community … It’s already over. That’s what they don’t understand. They’re fighting a losing battle.”

The couple never thought they’d be such hardcore campaigners this many years later. But when Donald Trump’s 2016 election sparked a viscous and hateful climate, they knew they had to keep fighting.

Gay panic defence
The murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 is one of the most infamous homophobic hate crimes in US history. (Evan Agostini/Getty)

“We were getting ready to retire in 2015, and then the election of 2016 occurred,” Dennis recalled.

“We still have to fight harder now to keep what we do have and to improve it for everybody around the country, and all the marginalized communities, because they’re going after everybody.”

Judy added: “I’m so tired of being angry”

The couple also believe it’s important to keep telling their son’s story to younger generations who might not have heard about Matthew before.

“I want them to understand the pain of it and to understand that we’re all different. I don’t want them to feel that fear for themselves or their friends, but I want them to understand that this did happen and is still happening.”

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