The late Matthew Shepard
The parents of slain gay American student Matthew Shepard have travelled to Russia to promote tolerance for the LGBT community.
Shepard was just 21-years-old when he was brutally assaulted and tortured in 1998 by two men who left him tied to a fence to die in Wyoming, because he was gay.
The foundation created in his memory by his parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, has played a major role in lobbying for hate crime legislation in the US.
AP reported last week that the Shepards would spend five days in Russia attending the Side by Side LGBT film festival screening of the documentary Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine in St. Petersburg.
They also plan to visit Moscow and meet with parents of gay and lesbian children.
“This is about families loving their kids, no matter who they are. If families would recognise that, everyone else would recognise it,” said Judy Shepard.
Russia’s LGBT community has faced growing discrimination and censorship since President Putin enacted a federal ‘gay propaganda’ law in June last year.
Its aim is ostensibly to “protect children” but it has marginalised gays and lesbians and made any public expression of support for the LGBT community illegal.
“Putin has made it so unhealthy to be LGBT or an ally. It will take at least a generation to clean up the mess he’s made and get some acceptance,” said Dennis Shepard.
“Judy and Dennis have been brave in sharing their family’s story in the US, and that bravery continues in Russia,” commented Ross Murray from GLAAD. “We hope that the message of the film, plus the heart-wrenching personal story of the Shepards will be able to reach hearts and minds.”
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine was directed by childhood friend Michele Josue and features the stories of those who were close to Shepard; friends, schoolmates and family.
A hate crime law signed by President Obama in 2009 was named “The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” honouring the memory of the young gay man as well another victim of hate violence, an African-American man who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas.