Since 1998, the legacy of this remarkable young man’s life has challenged and inspired millions of individuals to erase hate in all forms. Although his life was short, it continues to have a great impact on both young and old alike.
The story of Matthew Wayne Shepard begins on December 1, 1976 when he was born prematurely to Judy and Dennis Shepard in the small city of Casper, Wyoming. Matthew attended school in Casper until his junior year of high school when he finished his primary education at The American School in Switzerland. His experience abroad fueled his love for travel. He took the opportunity to explore Europe and learn multiple languages including German and Italian.
Matthew was an optimistic and accepting young man. He always put his family and friends first and had a special gift of relating to almost everyone. He was the type of person that was very approachable and always looked to new challenges. Matthew had a great passion for equality and always stood up for the acceptance of people’s differences. Throughout his life he expressed his love for acting by becoming very active in community theater both on and off stage.
Matthew’s college career took him to a number of different universities and later ended up studying political science, foreign relations and languages at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. He was extremely interested in politics and was chosen as the student representative for the Wyoming Environmental Council.
Shortly after midnight on October 7 1998, Matthew Shepard, met Aaron James McKinney and Russel Arthur Henderson in a bar. After Shepard admitted he was gay, they talked him into leaving with them, at which point they drove to a secluded location outside Laramie, stole his wallet, tied him to a fence, pistol-whipped him senseless, and left him for dead in freezing weather. He was discovered 18 hours later, his unconscious body initially mistaken for a scarecrow.
Matthew died on October 12 at 12:53 am at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. His entire family was by his side for the last few days of his life. His funeral was attended by friends and family from around the world and gained the appropriate media attention that brought Matthew’s story to the forefront of the fight against hate.
Matthew was promptly made an example of by the Right Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, who claimed divine retribution had killed Shepard for the sin of being a homosexual. Phelps and his flock picketed Shepard's funeral on 17 October 1998, holding signs proclaiming "GOD HATES FAGS" and similar slogans, later installing a "memorial" on the church website which proclaims: Matthew Shepard has been in hell for 2102 days. Eternity - 2102 days = Eternity.
This tragedy helped the world wake up to the fact that hate and discrimination still lives in our communities, our schools and our families. Although his life was cut short, the impact of his spirit is great.
Created to honor Matthew in a manner that was appropriate to his dreams, beliefs, and aspirations, the Foundation seeks to “Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion, & Acceptance” through its varied educational, outreach and, advocacy programs and by continuing to tell Matthew’s story.
To encourage respect for human dignity and difference by raising awareness, opening dialogues, and promoting positive change.
To “Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion, and Acceptance” through a variety of educational and outreach programs, and by continuing to tell Matthew’s story.
To persuade people to think differently, behave differently, and inform others of the importance and value of diversity.