Fifteen years ago, Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die on a fence outside Laramie, Wyoming. His brutal death has left a legacy: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into Federal law in 2009–after a decade of stalling in Congress. In death, Matthew Shepard became a force for great good; the Act in his name
expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability
and is the first to grant legal protection to transpeople.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation, created by his parents two months after their oldest son’s death, focuses on erasing hate in society; putting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth first; and ensuring equality for all LGBT Americans. Shepard’s mother Judy has become an strong advocate for LGBT rights.
To his friends, Matthew was “Matt” sweet, smart, funny. Tonight’s guest, Michele Josue was one of those friends, they met while Matt was attending The American School in Switzerland (TASIS). She has made tonight’s moving and bittersweet film, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine that traces Matt’s life, death, the trial of his murderers, and the aftermath. Using Matt’s journals and letters, interviews with family and schoolmates, and visiting key location in his life, Josue develops a well-rounded portrait of Matt Shepard.
Matt’s parents speak openly and honestly about their son and how they handled his coming out (gracefully and lovingly), his schoolmates talk about the Matt they knew and discuss how Matt was robbed, beaten and raped on a school trip to Morocco, a traumatic event which left him with deep psychological scars.
After graduation from TASIS, Matt tried to find stability, and eventually, after a brief stint in college in North Carolina, and living on his own in Denver (where it was clear he suffered from depression), he moved back to his home state of Wyoming and began attending the University of Wyoming in Laramie where he became active in the small but vital gay community.
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine takes us through his beating and death and trial, with members of the Laramie law enforcement community weighing in–and dispelling the weak crop of allegations that this was not a hate crime–and explaining the Shepard family’s reasons behind not asking for death penalty, though both of Matt’s parents were pro-capital punishment. Especially shocking are the hate-filled letters received by the Poudre Valley Hospital where Matt lay in a coma for six days, revealing a depth of homophobia still present in some segments of society.
With his murder, Matthew Shepard became a public figure, and in Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine Josue shows an intimate portrait of a young man full of promise, conflicts, doubts, and love–a friend whose life impacted everyone who knew him and whose death has impacted millions more.