Last night I watched the documentary (on Netflix!) Max Shepard is a Friend of Mine. Between my wiping away of tears, I became, once again, aware of the power the media has.
In 1998, Matt Shepard was beaten to death by two boys in Wyoming because of his sexual orientation. The documentary was made by one of his best friends, and she focused a lot on the aftermath of his death in the community and the nation. Shortly after he was found beaten and tied to a fence in the middle of nowhere, his small town of Laramie started to produce stories. Matt’s ex-guidance counselor refused to let the hate crime only get to the local level and disappear within a few days. He called up everyone he knew, and eventually newspapers such as The Washington Post were calling his house. After a few days, it became a widespread national news story. Every TV news station was picking it up, and eventually celebrities and politicians got word. The outpour of support and anger from the nation of the whole added a whole new layer of gay right movements that didn’t exist before his death. His mother started the Matthew Shepard Foundation, in which she preaches acceptance of those different from you. President Clinton commented on the fact that Americans are not valued to be hateful and prejudice. Celebrities, such as Ellen Degeneres, spoke at rallies. As mentioned in the film, people who had not been accepting of the gay community before, now realized that this could’ve been their son. Because it could have.
Even though it came from a horrible tragedy, Matt’s story shows the positive effect that media can have. Just recently, President Obama signed a Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Bill. None of this national attention would have been possible without the media stepping in.
I highly recommend this film, just have a lot of tissues next to you.