A few weeks ago, I picked up The Meaning of Matthew. I couldn't put it down. It's a book written by Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, who was killed eleven years ago because he was gay.
In October of 1998, I was 15 years old. I remember hearing about it, but didn't really have any reason for it to have an effect on me. My teen years were rough and I was just trying to make it through another day. So before I read the book, all I knew about Matthew Shepard was that he was killed in Wyoming, tied to a fence and beaten to death, because he was gay. Reading about who he was and the influence he was on his family, how much they loved him, and the raw details of his ordeal was very overwhelming and very powerful for me. Yes, he was killed horrifically, but he also lived. He's more of a person now instead of a headline.
Yesterday, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This adds the qualifications of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability to the already existing federal hate crime laws.
Matthew Shepard died eleven years ago. Without him, everything would be different. His sacrifice and the sacrifices of others have made it possible for me to live a little easier, to live honestly as myself. He didn't give up and he didn't give in and the price he paid is still being felt today. He was a kind-hearted young man, compassionate, passionate, and true to himself. He cared about others.
So thank you Matt, wherever you are. Because you died, we live, and each day move closer to being able to truly live free. That's the meaning of Matthew to me.