Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

Fifteen years after Matthew Shepard’s death, people are still remembering him all over the country. Matt Shepard was a college student in Wyoming who died in 1998 after being beaten and left to die, tied to a fence. His murder has made a huge impact on the LGBTQA community and hate-crime legislation.
During his trial, it was widely reported that he was killed because he was gay. This was the first time a person’s sexual orientation had been widely accepted as the motive for a crime. Because anti-gay discrimination was not prosecutable as a hate crime in Wyoming at the time, the murderers were not charged for a hate crime. After this incident, many changes have been made to the legislative system in Wyoming and the United States as a whole.
On Oct. 14, West Chester’s LGBTQA hosted a wonderful event with a video, guest speaker, and discussion to remember the fifteen year anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death. Sykes Ballroom had a line out the door and even had to set up more chairs for their unexpected turnout. As guests arrived, they were welcomed with food and the first 50 students got a free t-shirt. Once everyone was settled in, the event finally began.
First on the agenda was to watch clips from the The Laramie Project. The Laramie Project was first a play, later turned into a movie, compiled of interviews and coverage of events that happened in Laramie, Wyoming after the death of Matthew Shepard. This video instilled the overwhelming impact Matt’s death had on the people and society of Laramie.
After the video, guest speaker James Tress talked about his personal experience and connection with Matt. James, like Matt, is also from Casper, Wyoming. He met Matt through mutual friends and admitted Matt’s death was the main reason James became such an active participant in the LGBTQA movement. As a gay man in Wyoming himself, James shared similar struggles with sexual identity. Matt really inspired him to embrace who he was and to take a stand. James gave wonderful advice to the students of West Chester and brought a great energy to the room.
Students were not just encouraged to think about hate, but were asked questions to participate in discussion. This helped everyone feel comfortable and be able to voice their opinions. These questions revolved around hate at West Chester and what the students can do to eliminate hate in the community. In this open discussion, students were reminded to speak up in situations where discrimination and hate is occurring, as well as make sure to create a positive environment in their private as well as public lives.
As senior Molly Schwartz said, “I thought that an event like this was really necessary. Fifteen years later we are still battling for equality. It may not be as bad as it was, but we still need to be aware and talk about it frequently so we can continue to make positive changes. It’s hard to see people have ignorance to such topics because I was raised with an open mind. I also have a gay brother and love and accept him how he is and I would do anything to protect him.”
It has now been fifteen years since Matthew Shepard’s passing and he is still impacting society at large. The LGBTQA event was successful in informing, teaching, and empowering the student body.
As junior Ana Apostolescu said, “I didn’t know much about the story behind it all, but after going to the event, it really opened my eyes to the situation.”
This event had a successful impact on the students of West Chester and helped to continue the fight Matthew Shepard’s death has started against anti-gay and anti-hate discrimination.
Colleen Curry is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at CC763513@wcupa.edu.
 

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