SAN DIEGO -- Tomorrow evening at 7 pm, San Diego Remembers will host "Remembering Matthew Shepard 15 Years Later," which will include a rally, march, documentary screening and after party.
It was 15 years ago today that a chain of events began that ultimately led to the death of Matthew Shepard, one of the most publicized hate crimes of all time.
The 21-year old Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was attacked on the night of Oct. 6-7 in Laramie, Wyoming after meeting two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson at a bar. The two left Shepard to die tied to a fence in a remote rural area, only to be found 18 hours later in a coma.
Shepard died in the hospital Oct. 12, 1998, while people around the country held vigils and rallies protesting hate violence.
This particular incident sent shockwaves around the world, with a number of theatrical productions, books, movies and television programs that were created based on the murder.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation, which was created by Shepard's parents Dennis and Judy, shares a video that briefly describes his life and the impact of his death on the nation. The video can be seen at the bottom of this story.
In 2008, San Diego Remembers was born to reflect on the 10 years that had passed since Shepard's death. Organizers wanted to provide a space for the local community to remember Shepard and the hundreds of other people whose lives have been lost to hate violence, including several in San Diego.
For the past six years, San Diego Remembers has organized remembrance events each October to keep the spirit of Shepard alive and empower the local community to get involved in the fight against hate.
What started with just two people placing a candle on the John Wear Memorial Hate Crime Plaque has grown into an annual event that attracts hundreds of community members.
"Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine"
With this year marking 15 years since Shepard's death, San Diego Remembers has partnered with the creators of a new documentary, "Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine," which premiered last week.
The film follows director Michele Josue, a close friend of Matt's, as she travels to pivotal locations in Shepard’s life, interviewing other friends and family members, and gaining insight into the beautiful life and devastating loss of Matthew Shepard.
"I wanted to make this film because before Matt became 'Matthew Shepard,' this huge iconic figure in history, his identity forever tied to unspeakable violence and hate, he was just Matt -- a normal kid who happened to be gay, with a loving family and supportive friends. He was real. And I think it’s important that the world knows that," Josue said.
Josue and her team set off to make the documentary in the fall of 2010 "with a very small team and very few resources but lots of creativity and a shared passion for the story we were planning to tell."
With a shoestring budget, the team encountered numerous challenges along the way but Josue the technical issues were paled in comparison to the emotions that this project evoked.
" ... the true difficulty for me was grappling with the intense, difficult emotions of confronting Matt’s story in a way that I had never done before and coming face to face with emotions that have laid somewhat dormant these past 15 years," Josue said.
The film premiered last Friday at Washington National Cathedral in D.C. and the Mill Valley Film Festival in California.
San Diego Remembers worked with Josue and her team to bring the film to San Diego during this year's event, and organizers were pleased that the scheduling worked out well.
Josue and other members of the production team will be present at the film, and will answer questions during a post-screening talk back session.
"Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine" will screen at 8 pm at The San Diego LGBT Community Center, Tuesday, Oct. 8.
Participants in this year's San Diego Remembers Matthew Shepard event are encouraged to gather at the Hillcrest Pride Flag by 7 pm, for a short rally and performance by the San Diego Women's Chorus.
Following the brief remarks the crowd will march a brief route through Hillcrest, taking a moment to pause at the Wear Hate Crimes Plaque, located at 1029 University Ave.
The procession will end at The Center, where the film will be screened.
Participants are encouraged to wear purple, and to bring candles or purple glowsticks for the march.
At the end of the evening, participants 21 years and older will be invited to Uptown Tavern for a post-event celebration, which will include drink specials, food, conversation, and a chance to learn more about the work of San Diego Remembers.
Ivan Garcia, one of the co-chairs of this year's San Diego Remembers event, said he got involved with the group because he wants to let people who are afraid to be themselves that there is a community out there ready to help.
"Matthew's story helped me realize that I shouldn't be afraid of who I am. Life is too short to hide," Garcia said. "I'm excited for this year's event not only to see the support of my community but also to see new faces who want to be a part of it."
Rick Cervantes, who co-founded San Diego Remembers, said he never imagined that the idea to remember Shepard would become such an important movement in San Diego.
"When we first laid that candle on the plaque six years ago, we had no idea that just a few years later, hundreds of community members would come out and want to join in this work," Cervantes said. "It's an honor to be a part of this organization and has been a privilege to see so many young community members be a part of this work to make our community a better, safer place."
Cupcakes for a cause
San Diego Remembers has partnered with Babycakes San Diego for the second year in a row to sell the San Diego Remembers Cupcake.
Babycakes will donate a portion of the sale of each of these purple-colored cupcakes to San Diego Remembers.
The marble-flavored cupcakes are available through Oct. 18.
Babycakes is located at 3766 Fifth Ave. in Hillcrest.
The Hillcrest Pride Flag, where participants will gather for the 7 pm march, is located on Normal Street at University Avenue in Hillcrest.
The Center, where the film will be screened at 8 pm, is located at 3909 Centre St. in Hillcrest.
Uptown Tavern, the location for the post-event celebration, is located at 1236 University Ave. in Hillcrest.
The Center has a limited seating capacity for the film screening so those who wish to see it are encouraged to join in the march, as seating will not be opened until the march ends.
Additional information is HERE.
Photos from last year's event are HERE.
Disclosure: SDGLN Staff Writer Ben Cartwirght is one of the founders of San Diego Remembers, and has helped organize the event discussed in this story. Cartwright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @Benny_C, or at 888-442-9639 ext. 707.