Rise Above Coffee is proud to be the LGBTQ+ Coffee that gives back, and each month we feature a non-profit doing exceptional work in the LGBTQ+ community. This March, we’re shining a spotlight on The Matthew Shepard Foundation.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization. Their mission is to amplify the story of Matthew Shepard to inspire individuals, organizations, and communities to embrace the dignity and equality of all people. They empower individuals to find their voice, and challenge communities to identify and address hate that lives within our schools, neighborhoods, and homes. It is an organization focused on acceptance born out of a tragedy based on hate.
In October 1998, Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming. One night after a meeting with his university LGBT organization, two men attacked him for looking “obviously gay”. He was tied to a fence and brutally beaten, then left to die in near-freezing temperatures.
Shepard’s torture and murder was a turning point for LBGTQ rights in the United States, prompting deep outrage and a renewed commitment to activism. At the time, there were no federal laws to deal with violence based specifically on sexuality or gender identity. Unfortunately, it would take another 20 years for the federal government to address the kind of hatred that ended Matthew Shepard’s life.
In the aftermath of their son’s murder, Judy and Dennis Shepard started the Matthew Shepard Foundation. What began as a desire to teach parents to love and accept children who were questioning their sexuality blossomed into a pioneering non-profit that has since been a driving force of positive change in the LGBTQ community.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law were instrumental in pioneering the first federal hate crimes legislation in the U.S. In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law, formally acknowledging the nature of hate crimes in this country while providing stronger tools to address them. In the first 10 years after its signing, there were 60 convictions made under the Shepard-Byrd act.
These two organizations also partner to offer the Creating Safer Communities Hate Crimes Prevention Training. This groundbreaking program helps police and prosecutors better understand the need for effective, prompt hate crimes enforcement, while providing the skills and tools needed to improve relationships with marginalized communities. Since May of 2017, they have provided hate crimes training to more than 1,400 law enforcement officers and prosecutors in 45 major U.S. cities, including Chicago, Knoxville, Phoenix, Orlando, and Charleston.
Additionally, The Matthew Shepard Foundation website offers a deep library of resources for the LGBTQ community. Topics range from safety and support to legal rights, legislation, reports, publications, and even an LGBTQ+ glossary of terms and symbols.
While the Matthew Shepard Foundation has helped change some minds and hearts over the years, hate crimes based on gender have not been eradicated. But the foundation’s mission to embrace the dignity and equality of all people is stronger than ever. “We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure safety, visibility, and inclusiveness for the entire LGBT community until that ideal becomes reality.”
More than 23 years after his death, Matthew Shepard’s legacy lives on in thousands of people who actively fight to replace hate with understanding, compassion, and acceptance.
In support of that fight, we’re introducing Empower Youth as our March #coffeeforacause. During the month of March, buy Empower Youth coffee and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation.