HRC Marks 18th Anniversary of Matthew Shepard Attack

This week, HRC marks the 18th anniversary of the tragic attack and untimely death of Matthew Shepard.

Matthew was brutally attacked in Laramie, Wyoming, in an anti-gay hate crime on October 6, 1998. He died from his injuries six days later.           

Following his death, his parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, persistently fought for a federal hate crimes law. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) was signed into law in 2009.

More than 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally in 2014 targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the most recent FBI statistics available. This reporting dramatically undercounts LGBTQ data, as it’s based on local, non-mandatory reporting. A recent investigation by the Associated Press found that more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments across the country had not reported a single hate crime to the FBI for the past six years, representing about 17 percent of these law enforcement agencies nationwide. The hard data on murders and crimes against transgender people are especially thin; HRC has attempted to begin tracking these crimes independently from what sources are available.  

Although the HCPA was signed into law, it is just one part of the comprehensive efforts needed to prevent and prosecute hate crimes. There is much more to do to protect the LGBTQ community. 

It is critical that states join the federal government in working to address hate-motivated crimes that terrorize communities in every state.Currently, 15 states have laws that addresses hate or bias crimes based, but do not address sexual orientation or gender identity. Incredibly, five states (Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming) have no laws at all addressing the scourge of hate crimes.

Local law enforcement and municipal officials must take these crimes seriously, treat victims with compassion and respect, and work to address community tensions and bias. 

Learn more about hate crimes and the laws in your state.

Judy Shepard has served on the HRC Board of Directors since 2001 and has appeared at HRC Foundation’s Time to THRIVE conference. She has advocated for LGBTQ equality around the globe, most recently at Baltic Pride. Read an op-ed from Shepard and HRC President Chad Griffin on the epidemic of the violence against transgender women here.