The death of Matthew in 1998 was the start of this Foundation’s work to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. Unfortunately, Matt’s death was far from the last to occur during the ongoing struggle for equality and equal protection for the LGBT community. It seems with every forward step we take toward a better future, we’re reminded again of the hate that remains by another tragic loss of life.
On December 28, 2014, Leelah Alcorn, a trans* girl in Ohio, committed suicide and scheduled a suicide note to appear on her blog shortly after her death. Alcorn used her last words to share her experience as a trans* youth, citing the lack of acceptance she received from her parents as a factor leading to her suicide, and expressing a need for her death to mean something.
In a piece published on LGBTQNation.com, writer Rob Watson equated Alcorn to the “Matthew Shepard of our time,” drawing comparisons between the reactions each death caused both in and outside the LGBT community. Matt’s death, unnecessary and tragic, forced the nation to face the hate it fostered within its communities, households and schools. The LGBT community came together to demand that his death would amount to more than just a senseless act of hate.
We, as a community, as a country and a globally interconnected society, need to do more to reassure LGBT youth that their lives are valuable, that they are loved, that we are here to listen. It is essential that all LGBT youth know, in their hearts, that death is not the way to be heard and make a difference. You are not alone.
Matt was on track to bring about change in the world—but through his talents, not his death. Our message to all LGBT youth, through our outreach and our virtual resource center Matthew’s Place, is this: You have a place in this world. You have a voice, and we hear it. You have a life worth living.
As a community, we cannot sit back and hope for change. Each of us must speak up and express love where others only witness hate.