CASPER, WY: Ten years ago the death of 21-year-old college student Matthew Shepard, inspired a movement in the LGBT community against hate crimes. Now, the foundation that bears his name is taking time to remember Shepard, continue to tell his story, and engage people with its "Campaign to Erase Hate."
Matthew Shepard Foundation and its AOR, Renna Communications, have been handling media outreach and PR leading up to October 13 anniversary event, marking his death. The Foundation focuses its efforts online, using e-mail distribution lists to keep people informed of local events.
"When Judy [Shepard, Matthew's mother and executive director of the Foundation,] and all of us were thinking about how to best honor the 10th year remembrance of Matt's murder, she decided she wanted to use it as a mechanism to engage ordinary people and help them gain skills and ideas that they could use in their everyday lives to combat hate," said Thomas Howard, programs director at the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
The Campaign to Erase Hate, which launched this summer, was that mechanism. Through the Web site, the Foundation provides individuals with tools to discuss and address hate in society today and encourages them to invite their friends to join the campaign.
Renna Communications' work includes "pitching more meaningful, nuanced issues and the things that came out of this death," said Cathy Renna, managing partner. Media outlets including The New York Times, Rocky Mountain News, and CBS' The Early Show have the activities surrounding the 10-year remembrance.
Local productions of The Laramie Project, a play written by Moisés Kaufman, is one of the ways the Foundation is spreading Shepard's story. The play portrays how the small town reacted to Shepard's death and was turned into a HBO TV movie in 2002. On September 27 the Foundation dedicated a bench to Shepard at the University of Wyoming where he was a student, and a candlelight ceremony will take place in Minneapolis, MN, on October 13.
"The cornerstone of our remembrance is trying to make this about engaging people in the fight," Howard added.
Yet the remembrance is only an extension of what the Foundation has been doing in recent years as a well-known organization in the community.
"[The Matthew Shepard Foundation] has been instrumental in getting visibility and advocating for anti-gay hate crimes," said Richard Ferraro, the director of PR for Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). The Foundation worked with GLAAD on a media resource kit with information about Shepard and guidelines and recommendations for journalists covering hate crimes and other LGBT issues.
The visibility brought about by the Foundation, he said, helps get people involved in not only campaigns like the Campaign to Erase Hate, but also in supporting local legislators focusing on introducing anti-gay hate crime laws.