I’d like to say I remember exactly where I was the day I found out Matthew Shepard was killed. Sadly, a lot of LGBTQ people have been killed since then. I do have crystal clear memories of the gruesome murders of Shepard — as well as Brandon Teena, Sakia Gunn, Angie Zapata, and even James Byrd (who wasn’t gay), in part cemented by the words I wrote about them at the time. When 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was found beaten and dying on a fence in Wyoming, it hit close to home. I was on my one and only sabbatical from journalism, a trial run living back home in rural Idaho. My copilot and I were unmoored from our LGBTQ life in San Francisco, so when Matthew was murdered 564 miles away in a landscape very much like ours (and in a state where my sister-in-law still lives), it felt like it had happened in our own backyard. We moved away from Idaho for the last time eight weeks later.
What’s lost in talking about Matthew is that his death wasn’t all he endured as a gay kid in the ’80s and ’90s. He had been sexually assaulted during high school and bullied for not being more masculine, which led to panic attacks, depression, and suicide ideation. Those things still occur — and we’re seeing an uptick of hate-related crimes in the current political climate — but by and large, the young LGBTQ folks I hear from today live in a much different world than Matthew and I grew up in, regardless of where they are in the U.S. Even Wyoming and Idaho now have many out LGBTQ teens.
Judy and Dennis Shepard took their son’s tragedy and built a foundation to support queer and trans kids, to move LGBTQ rights to the forefront, and to make something good out of something so heartbreakingly tragic. In the decades since, many other organizations have also become dedicated to making sure our youth aren’t just surviving but thriving.
GLAAD’s Rising Stars program, for instance, offers LGBTQ youth grants to fund their projects (including two of our cover stars, Shayna Maci Warner and Gio Bravo). Meanwhile, PFLAG offers critical support and the Point Foundation (started in 2001) offers LGBTQ students college scholarships. Groups that work with youth experiencing homelessness, suicidal thoughts, and HIV have all been founded since Matthew’s murder.
Whitney was right: the kids today really are our future. Based on the ones on our cover this issue, I can’t wait to marvel at the world they create.
Yours in the struggle,
Diane Anderson-Minshall, Editorial Director