June is Pride Month. The sexual and gender minority communities are affirming their right to happiness, safety, equal rights and protections under the law, and an existence free of regulated bigotry and discrimination. However, many still do not understand why laws specifically addressing hate crimes, especially against the sexual and gender minority communities, exist or why they are important. In this post, we explore one of America’s most tragic homophobic hate crimes and the laws, movements and attitudes that it inspired.
Matthew Shepard: The Hate Crime That Spurred a Movement
On October 7, 1998, Matthew Shepard was horrifically murdered. His murder was one of the most infamous and notorious anti-gay hate crimes in the history of the United States. The crime birthed a large activist movement, which led to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This is a federal law against bias crimes specifically directed at sexual and gender minorities.
Matthew was abducted by Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney who drove him to a remote area and tied him to a split-rail fence resembling a scarecrow pose. He was tortured, assaulted with a pistol and severely beaten while he was tied up. They left him to die in the freezing cold all night long. His face was so severely beaten that it was entirely covered in blood, except where his tears had washed it clean. Matthew was found by someone on his bicycle who mistook him for a scarecrow. The motivation for this crime was sexual orientation.
The attack caused fractures to his head and ear and severe brainstem damage. He had twelve lacerations on his face, neck, and head and his injuries were pronounced too severe for doctors to perform surgery. Mathew remained in a coma and total life support in the intensive care unit until he died.
His death brought massive media attention because of the sheer brutality and motive. This attention brought the story to the public and helped combat crimes based on hate and bigotry. It served to change the way America discusses and responds to hate.
The Politics & Psychology Behind Attitudes About Hate Crime Laws
Political identity and personal psychology influences individual attitudes about hate crime laws. When developing and implementing anti-bias reduction initiatives it is important to address the significant role played by failing to include tolerance education in these initiatives. This inclusion helps reduce anti-gay and lesbian bias. The belief system of the individual as well as his or her individual difference influences attitude about hate crime laws. The majority of young adults support hates crime laws. Politically conservative individuals tend to oppose hate crime laws and believe that such laws are socially divisive. Opposed individuals see such laws as a function of political identity and blame the media for sensationalizing hate crimes. Legal theorists oppose such laws bases on concerns about the soundness of the laws. Others oppose the laws as an addition to their general opposition to intergroup equity and social justice in general.
Mathew Shepard Foundation. (2012). Retrieved on November 11, 2012 from
Wikipedia. (2012). Retrieved on November 11, 2012 from