Meet the new generation of activists working for LGBTQ equality in Matthew Shepard’s name

Bottom left - Joe Foster, development ...

Matthew Shepard would’ve fit in with the millennials.

At least that’s what Jason Marsden believes. He would know — he was friends with Shepard and is the longtime director of the Denver-based foundation named after him. Marsden means it in a positive way.

Shepard was political and opinionated. He loved to debate and was impatient for progress, said Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. He was pushy.

Matthew Shepard, in fact, was much like many of the members of a new generation of activists who are working for LGBTQ equality and rights in his name, Marsden said.

Some were just coming to terms with their own sexuality when Shepard’s murder focused the world’s attention on the oppression, violence and inequality the gay community faced. Others weren’t even old enough at the time to read a newspaper.

Shepard, 21, died Oct. 12, 1998, in a Fort Collins hospital. Six days earlier, two men had beaten him unconscious and left him tied to a fence outside Laramie. The attackers told police they targeted Shepard because he was gay. Millions around the world followed news coverage of the attack, Shepard’s death and the trials of his murderers.

Joe Foster was 15 years old the day Shepard died. Foster knew he was gay, but hadn’t told anyone. He was terrified.

Sara Grossman was 13 years old that day. She hadn’t come out either — she was just learning about her sexuality.

Jess Fahlsing was 2, and, of course, has no memory of the event.

All three grew up in the shadow of Shepard’s death. Now, 20 years later, all three are activists working in his name. They’re his living legacy.

“There’s a kind of beauty to the fact that they’re so much like he was,” said Marsden, 46.

AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver PostBottom left – Joe Foster, development director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Bottom right – Sara Grossman, communications director. Both were photographed at the foundation’s downtown Denver office.A growing legacy

Jess Fahlsing’s life this past month has been hectic, as the 22-year-old helped plan dozens of events at the University of Wyoming, where Shepard attended school. As co-chair of the Matthew Shepard Memorial Group at the university, Fahlsing was in charge of a slate of events commemorating the 20th anniversary of Shepard’s death.

But Fahlsing, who identifies as queer and uses gender-neutral pronouns, didn’t even know Shepard’s name until their senior year in high school in Rock Springs, Wyo. — about three hours west of Laramie on Interstate 80.

Fahlsing wasn’t sure about their own identity then. There was no visible queer community in Rock Springs, a town of about 23,000. There were no role models for Fahlsing there.

But once they moved to Laramie to attend the University of Wyoming, Fahlsing started to question their identity. Gradually, they began to live publicly as a queer person. But they remained fairly private, shying away from public activism.

Then, in April 2017, U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., told a group of high school students that a man who wears a tutu to a …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Politics


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