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Where are we now on the 15th Anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s Death?


Since its early days, The Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota, has supported efforts that confront discrimination, oppression, prejudice, inequity and hatred in all forms. We invited Monica Meyer to reflect on the progress made since Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder in 1998 and the work that remains unfinished.

In October 1998, 21-year old Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming in one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in the United States.  As noted on the Matthew Shepard Foundation website, his death garnered immense media attention and changed the way we talk about, and deal with, hate and bigotry against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in America. Although Matthew’s life was cut short, his story has led to positive change and his legacy lives on in thousands of people who actively work to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance.

On the 15th anniversary of Matthew’s death, let’s take a moment to reflect on how far we have come. Here in Minnesota, we are celebrating the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, which became law on August 1.  Did we imagine that this was possible in 1998?  We achieved this amazing victory because, in 2012, we came together and created the biggest peopled-powered movement this state has ever seen. By talking about love and commitment and why marriage matters to our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and members of our faith communities, we saw our humanity in each other and in LGBT people and families.  Earlier this year, legislators, who believe in fairness and justice, came together and voted for marriage equality. They wanted to be on the right side of history and, like Jay and Rose Phillips, founders of The Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota, they took a stand for what they believe in.

The movement for equality for LGBT people has made great strides.  But our work is not done. We need to keep the momentum going to make Minnesota a state where you are free to be who you are, love who you love and live without fear of violence, harassment or discrimination.

Fifteen years after Matthew’s death, youth are still being bullied, which prevents them from spending their school day learning, making friends and being inspired about their future. Students are not able to give their full attention to their studies when they are worried about what happens in between classes and before and after school.

The Safe Schools for All Coalition, a group of nearly 100 education, disability rights, youth, religious, LGBT and social service organizations, as well as individuals, is working to change this by building support to pass safe schools legislation in 2014. It is our intention that any bill will help protect students from bullying, harassment and intimidation, and will provide training and resources on bullying prevention and intervention for educators, administrations and students.

The work OutFront is doing with the Safe Schools for All Coalition is supported by the Phillips Foundation, which advocates for LGBT rights and is committed to building a community that celebrates diversity and eliminates discrimination. Like OutFront, the Foundation believes we can create positive change when people, organizations, and institutions work together to tackle persistent challenges, like bullying and hate/bias crimes.

According to FBI crime statistics, the most common reason for hate crimes is racial bias. Next most common are crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or religion.

Transgender people, especially trans women, and people of color are disproportionately affected by hate violence. Yet attacks on members of these marginalized groups attract only a fraction of the media coverage and public outrage that follow the murders of white and non-trans people.

Locally, OutFront Minnesota’s Anti-Violence Program (AVP) provides direct services to community members who need support regarding intimate partner violence and general crime related victimization including (but not limited to) harassment, hate/bias issues, sexual assault and/or other types of victimization.

In 2012, our AVP received 477 reports of hate and bias incidents throughout Minnesota. This represents a 45% increase over 2011. Of these survivors, 39% reported experiencing general anti-LGBT violence with 18.2% also reporting specifically anti-transgender violence.  Overall, 52.5% of reports to the AVP in 2012 included threats, discrimination, and harassment with 20.9% of hate violence survivors reporting that they experienced physical violence resulting in an injury. In Minnesota (keeping in line with national trends), 73% of survivors reported that they were attacked by strangers. However, of known offenders, where we live and work continues to be the least safe places for LGBT folks. 53% of offenders were known to their victims — they were either family members, neighbors or coworkers.

Our AVP staff is working to end violence and harassment against LGBT people by creating social change.  One step toward achieving this goal is to educate systems’ professionals, such as law enforcement and the court system. In the past year, we have trained over 700 law enforcement officers and over 500 service providers throughout Minnesota about the unique barriers that LGBT people often face when trying to report hate and bias crimes or access mainstream services. We are deeply committed to creating a Minnesota where all people have the freedom and power to be safe and make the best choices for their own lives.

Matthew Shepard has left a powerful, enduring legacy. Before his murder, many people didn’t know about hate crimes against the LGBT community. Now, there is greater awareness and more services are available for victims/survivors. Matthew’s death has been a catalyst for change. Imagine how much more we will accomplish in the next 15 years if we remain steadfast in our efforts and resolve to never give up.

Monica Meyer has been engaged in grassroots organizing and policy advocacy on behalf of progressive causes since 1992. She joined the staff of OutFront Minnesota as Public Policy Director in 2001 and became Executive Director in 2010. Monica received her master’s degree in public policy from the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, and her undergraduate degree from Hamline University. She lives in Minneapolis with her wife Michele Steinwald and their dog Miette.

About OutFront Minnesota
OutFront Minnesota is the state’s leading LGBT organization. Their mission is to create a state where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are free to be who they are, love who they love, and live without fear of violence, harassment or discrimination. They deliver programs and services to Minnesota’s LGBT and allied communities in the areas of community organizing, public policy, anti-violence and crime victim services, law and education and training.

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