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If you don't
vote, you can't bitch

If you don't
vote, you can't bitch

Judy_renna

Voting was an exciting privilege and responsibility to young activist Matthew Shepard. With Matthew gone, it's up to you to make a difference. Here are five easy steps for beginners.

In the nearly eight years since my son, Matthew, was murdered in an antigay hate crime (now commonly referred to as an antigay bias crime), I have spoken to millions of people--including more than a million college students--about the importance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights issues and hate-crimes legislation. Today, I am speaking out about an equally important topic: voting.

The vast amount of media attention that Matthew's death received put our family in a position that is difficult to describe. During this immensely personal crisis, we were unexpectedly thrust into the international media spotlight. We became the focal point in the national dialogue about hate crimes and LGBT issues in general.

At that point, the family had a choice. We could withdraw into some semblance of privacy and try to resume as normal a life as possible. Or we could use this high-profile visibility to raise our voices in more public forums to talk about what mattered to Matthew and to us. The choice we made was to use my voice to speak out about the issues that were meaningful to my son and that would honor his memory. Voting was one of those issues.

Matthew was an intelligent and sensitive child, someone who understood the connection between politics and social issues from an early age. While still in elementary school, he volunteered for the campaigns of local political candidates. He was not old enough to stay home alone, much less old enough to vote, and yet there he was, stuffing envelopes and going door-to-door for candidates he believed in.

That's just how Matthew was. When he believed in people, he believed in them with his whole being. He loved people and loved helping them even more. Making friends and making a difference were great joys for Matthew.

Even as a young child, Matthew had an interest in current events. He was able to grasp complex issues--and equally able and willing to express his opinions about those issues. His outspokenness was driven by hope. He believed in the possibility of a better world--a world free from oppression and discrimination. He understood he had a role to play in making that world come to be and knew that voting was an important responsibility toward that goal. After Matthew turned 18, one of the first things he would do after moving to a new town was register to vote. For him, the right to vote was important and exciting--a privilege, a responsibility, and a chance to be heard.

I've learned during my travels that LGBT voter registration is low and that the actual incidence of voting is even lower. This is totally unacceptable! I'm both amazed and appalled. I find it hard to believe there is such widespread apathy when the primary political tactic utilized throughout the nation in the most recent election was the targeting of the LGBT community by tapping into homophobic fears.

I wonder if people realize that many of the upcoming local, state, and national races can be influenced in significant ways by a strong turnout of LGBT voters and their allies. This is why the Matthew Shepard Foundation has undertaken an aggressive "Get Out the Vote" campaign through my public appearances, the media, and our Web site.

During my presentations, I give audience members five voter-related tasks to do after they leave. I am now asking you to do these same five tasks:

1. Register to vote.

2. Educate yourself on the issues. Find out what candidates want to do for you--and to you.

3. Volunteer for a local, state, or national campaign.

4. Actually vote in the election.

5. And, finally, no matter who is elected, hold your elected officials accountable!

If Matthew were alive today, I know he would tell you to register and to vote, reminding you that "if you don't vote, you can't bitch" about those who were elected or the actions they take as your representatives. He would beg you to let your voice be heard and to use your precious right to vote. He would also ask you to encourage your family, friends, and business associates to make their votes count.

I am making the same request as Matthew: Register and vote, please. It's your right, your duty, and your future. It will forever break my heart when I think of my son tied to a split-rail fence, beaten and left for dead on the Wyoming prairie, with no one to hear his voice or his cries for help. But what gives me comfort is the knowledge that his dreams and hopes for a better and safer world continue to live on through the work done by the Matthew Shepard Foundation and by people exercising their right to vote.

To pledge to vote on Matthew's behalf and learn how you can complete your five voter-related tasks please visit: MatthewShepard.org/Vote.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Judy Shepard