Editors' note: Greg Varnum is the acting Executive Director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition.
It seems that regardless of your age or the amount of time you've been working with the LGBT rights movement - everyone is aware of the Matthew Shepard story. It's something so iconic in our movement that instead of referring to the anniversary of his attack or his death, many just refer to it as "The Anniversary of Matthew Shepard."
His story arguably ranks up there with the Stonewall Riots, the start of the AIDS epidemic, Paragraph 175 and the formation of the Daughters of Bilitis and Mattachine Society as having a profound impact on our entire movement. It's hard to say exactly why this one attack out of so many and this young person out of the thousands affected by anti-LGBT acts has had this profound impact, but it's hard to deny that it has.
I was fifteen-years-old when Matthew Shepard was made the latest victim of our country's Anti-LGBT Industry. I vaguely recall the news coverage, but not being out at the time and being caught up in the world of a teenage computer geek, it didn't stand out to me much. Years later, and months before I did come out, Judy Shepard came to speak at my college. Not being able to recall exactly why I knew that name, and being caught up in the world of a freshman college student, I didn't go - something I still regret today. It wasn't until four years after Matthew's death that his story left a permanent mark on my life.
While I may have been a late arrival to the group of individuals impacted by Matthew Shepard, the impact of his story has been both profound and lasting. It has influenced all of my work. The desire to prevent something like that from ever happening again to another LGBT young person has been a continuous source of motivation for me. When I'm involved with an incident that reminds me that attacks that continue to happen to this day, I find the way our movement mobilized around Matthew's family to be a source of inspiration and hope.
To commemorate the memory of Matthew Shepard, the National Youth Advocacy Coalition will begin today a week-long series of postings on our blog discussing how Matthew Shepard has impacted leaders in our movement. Our hope is to show that even in the wake of such a horrible tragedy, his story has touched the lives of so many and has had a profound impact on our movement.
Leaders from NYAC, PFLAG, GLSEN, The Trevor Project and other LGBT organizations - as well as community leaders involved with the events surrounding Matthew's attack - will be sharing their thoughts.
I invite you to check out our blog when we introduce the first set of postings today and to come back each day to read new entries from guest contributors. Matthew has left a permanent impact on many of us, and at NYAC we are humbled to be able to take part in honoring his memory.