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 Op-ed: Shepards Say Obama Will “Move This Country Forward”

 Op-ed: Shepards Say Obama Will “Move This Country Forward”

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Thirteen years ago, we were your typical American family. Looking back, we realize that you could have even described us as blissfully unaware. That all changed on October 12, 1998 when our son Matt died from injuries he'd received a few days earlier.

On the night Matt was attacked, he met two men at a bar who claimed to be gay. They offered him a ride home, but instead they robbed him and then drove to an open prairie, tied him to a fence, beat him, and left him to die. He was found 18 hours later by a mountain biker, and passed away a few days later at a hospital.

It quickly became clear that Matt was a victim of a hate crime. He was targeted by these men because they thought he was gay. And, though both men received life sentences, we realized that our son was never protected. We also realized that too many people in the LGBT community were victimized because of who they were. Being gay or straight is no more a choice than being right- or left-handed. It is simply a matter of how each of us is born, and to know that our son was killed because of who he was born to be was, and is still, unacceptable to us.

No hate crime prevention laws existed nationally or in our state prior to his death, and though we were grieving, we knew our family's story had to be told. We didn't want a single family to have to look at the empty chair around the dinner table or at family holidays. You aren't supposed to have to bury a child, and we wanted to make sure we did everything we could so that other parents didn't have to. If we could help save just one family from the pain that we still experience, then silence was not an option.

We have traveled across the country to churches, to schools, and to anyone who'd listen to Matt's story. We participated in rallies, marched through Washington, and spoke on television against hate crimes. We wanted the LGBT community to know just how many allies there were out there, and to have a sense of security in their lives.

This security was granted on October 28, 2009 when a hate crimes prevention law under Matt's name was signed into law. Through a bipartisan Congress and with President Obama's support, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act declared hate crimes against the LGBT community to be a federal offense, sending the message that they would no longer be tolerated and that LGBT Americans are an important and valued thread in the American fabric.

Over the last few years, the LGBT community has seen great promise, but we still have work to do both legally and socially. If you need any proof of this, just look at the latest teen suicide rates in the LGBT community.

Along with other supporters of the LGBT community, President Obama and the First Lady created an "It Gets Better" video to reach out to struggling young LGBT Americans across the country, asking them to stay positive and know there is a brighter future ahead.

As both of us have said over the years, hate crimes are meant to bring fear to a body of people. Our children deserve to attend schools where they can learn in an environment free of fear, and live in a world where people accept them for who they are. We have faith we are moving in the right direction and we have faith that President Obama will continue to move this country forward. He stood up for Matt and the millions of other gay and lesbian Americans everywhere.

As we acknowledge the two-year anniversary of the signing of the hate crimes prevention law that bears Matt's name, we hope that all of us can band together - from the White House to the school house, from the steps of Congress to living rooms across America - to continue to fight for a better future for all our children and for a nation that stand a little closer to the ideals on which it was founded.

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

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