Do You Remember Where You Were When You Heard That Matthew Shepard Died?
I do. It was fourteen years ago, when I was a freshman in university. I was in my room in the dormitory (we call them "residences" in Canada), working on an essay. The radio was on. I heard the story that Matthew Shepard had died in the hospital, and my heart dropped into my stomach.
I'd been following the story all week, ever since I'd heard that the 22-year-old Wyoming University student had been found burned, pistol-whipped, tied to a fence, and suffering from exposure to cold temperatures for 18 hours. The story had hit close to home because it was suspected that Matthew Shepard's attackers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, had targeted him because he was openly gay. Being raised in a small town where several friends had struggled with the decision to come out, and seeing what some of them had faced once they did, I knew that Matthew Shepard's decision to be openly gay in the small town of Laramie, Wyoming was potentially risky. But it had never occurred to my young, naive self that someone might actually kill another person over their sexuality.
It scared the crap out of me, and filled me with a sadness that that I couldn't express. And I still get those feelings every year, on the anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death - the day that my belief in the world as a safe place for people who are different died too.
I wish that I could say that I've had a thousand experiences since then that have gone a long way to convince me that the world is safe for people that the world labels "different" - for LGBTT people, for people in racial minorities, for people with disabilities - but I haven't. Quite the contrary, actually. I'm hearing more and more stories that make me sad and angry, such as the fact that disability hate crime is up significantly in Britain since Welfare Benefit reform came in.
Amanda Todd: We're Failing Our Children
In Canada, British Columbia teen Amanda Todd took her own life this week, just weeks after posting what only can be described as a cry for help on YouTube several weeks ago. In the video she uses homemade flashcards to document how she was bullied to the point of physical assault at her school, and then cyberbullied once she changed schools. She was just 15.
Amanda Todd was just a teen that made some poor choices. She was being punished enough by the consequences of those choices without her peers jumping in not only to judge, but to encourage her to commit suicide. That sort of bullying behaviour is deplorable - and the fact that it went as far as it did without someone in authority doing something about it is deplorable as well.
How can we make sure that stories like Matthew Shepard's and Amanda Todd's are not repeated?