The story of Matthew Shepard is well-known today -- Matthew, a 21-year-old gay man, was tied to a post, beaten, and left to die by the side of the prairie in Laramie, Wyoming. His murderers were two young men around his own age. One reportedly declared no regret -- gay men like Matthew were a threat who "needed killing," he said.
October marked the 15th anniversary of Matthew's death. As a new month begins, I'm called to consider how we can make sure that classrooms, at least, are safe spaces, and how we can train children in tolerance, not hate.
Since October of 1998, our nation has evolved. President Obama has signed hate-crimes legislation into law, as have many individual states. (Wyoming, however, is one of five states that still lack such laws.)
Despite progress, violence continues, and not just against LGBTQ individuals. In 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigations reported over 6,000 hate crimes in the States. Roughly half were racially motivated. Twenty percent were based on sexual orientation, and three quarters of these victims were people of color. Just over 10 and 20 percent, respectively, were crimes targeting ethnicity and religion.
How can we expect our students to feel safe amidst all of this? Not only do I worry about hate crimes in our nation, I worry about hate itself in our schools. I worry about the quieter, daily dangers our students face.