New documentary revives discussion of LGBTQ safety

A new documentary exploring the life of Matthew Shepard is set to premiere in select cities across Canada on Feb. 20, almost 17 years after the gay student of Wyoming University was murdered.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, which will play at Toronto’s Carlton Cinema, is reviving local concerns regarding the safety of LGBTQ youth today.

Matthew Shepard was the victim of one of the most notorious homophobic hate crimes in the history of the USA.

On Oct. 6, 1998, two assailants, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, lured Shepard from a bar to a nearby field where he was badly beaten and left tied to a post to die.

Shepard was severely injured, and died in hospital six days later.

17 years later

Shepard’s murder made global headlines and further ignited the gay civil rights movement in the USA and abroad. His story was a catalyst towards hate crime prevention, and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed in 2009 by President Barack Obama.

Shepard’s story was adapted into a play called ‘The Laramie Project’, and his parents created a gay rights advocacy and outreach organization called The Matthew Shepard Foundation.

In Canada, many accomplishments for gay rights have unfolded in the years that followed Shepard’s death, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005.

However, the re-emergence of Shepard’s story in the media has left many people questioning the progress of LGBTQ rights over the last 17 years.

Tolerance is limited

“Same-sex marriages are legal in Canada, but that does not mean that we have become hugely tolerant,” said Peter Grevstad, Professor of Communications and Literary Studies at Sheridan College.

“Things have not changed quickly enough for LGBTQ students in Canada, and members of the LGBTQ community still experience homophobic and transphobic remarks.”

Grevstad says despite gains, bullying and harassment still exist

“Today’s treatment of the LGBTQ community is certainly better than it used to be; however, we still require GSAs (gay-straight alliances) on campuses to protect individuals and further awareness. Students are still being bullied, harassed and persecuted for their sexual orientation.”

When it comes to protecting LGBTQ youth, Grevstad believes the onus lies with educational institutions and their student populations.

“All institutions have an obligation to have GSAs available on campuses, and to promote a foundational policy that reflects diversity and respect for everyone,” Grevstad said.

“To be marginalized is to be silenced. Therefore, all students need to educate themselves on the LGBTQ community and their school’s policies, and act in a manor that is considerate to others.”

Safe spaces

Grevstad explained that LGBTQ students have options when it comes to speaking out about their experiences and concerns.

“I would recommend personal campus services for LBGTQ youth looking for someone to talk to, or group events,” Grevstad said.

“For instance, Sheridan’s counselling services are excellent. The counsellors offer support and advice to students, which is private and confidential. In addition, Sheridan’s student council is incredibly supportive of LGBTQ initiatives, and there are student council offices located at each campus.”

Similar services exist at other post-secondary institutions across Canada, with most having GSAs available on campus for students to visit.


Photo credit: Google images

Video credit: MyFriendMattFilm on YouTube

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