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COMMENTARY: Remembering Matthew Shepard

Twelve years ago today, Matthew Shepard passed away, six days after been beaten and tortured and left to die after being tied to a fence in a desolate field near Laramie, Wyo.

He was 21 and a student at the University of Wyoming. He was targeted because he was gay.

Shepard’s slaying stunned most Americans and indeed many folks around the world. His mother, Judy Shepard, became a tireless crusader for hate crime laws and an ally of the LGBT community.

Congress did not pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act until Oct. 22, 2009. President Barack Obama signed the act into law on Oct. 28, 2009.

Today, as we reflect on the horrors that were inflicted on Shepard simply because he was gay, we must somberly pause to recognize that homophobia is still very much a part of our lives. We must not get complacent in our fight for equality, either here in America or abroad, where millions of LGBT people live in fear for being who they are.

Just this month in New York, a 30-year-old man and two teenagers in the Bronx were beaten, tortured and sodomized simply for being gay.

Across America, LGBT students are being harassed and bullied in our schools, leading to a rash of teen suicides this year.

Candidates representing the Tea Party and the Republicans are openly homophobic in their attacks on the LGBT community.

Hate groups like Westboro Baptist Church picket LGBT events and military funerals, spewing homophobic slurs and vile speech that offends almost everyone.

Right-wing groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Focus on Family raise millions of dollars in donations each year by spreading their hate, lies, fear and prejudice about the LGBT community.

Sometimes it is difficult to imagine that it is 2010, not 1950 all over again.

But there is also much good news to reflect upon today.

Public opinion in the U.S. has been growing favorably toward the LGBT community, and the quest for equal rights is now supported by a majority of Americans. For these reasons, we as a community need to stand up, show our rainbow colors, and fight back against homophobia.

Otherwise, Matthew Shepard and all the other victims of homophobia will have died in vain.