PISCATAWAY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — This weekend marked the 15th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, the openly gay college student in Wyoming whose death raised awareness of bullying, abuse and anti-gay violence across the country.
As WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported, a new documentary about Shepard’s life will be screened Monday night at Rutgers University.
The film, “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine,” seeks to humanize the name now synonymous with combatting bullying. Director Michele Josue was a high school friend of Shepard’s.
The purpose is “to show the world that he was actually a real person, and not an icon,” she said.
And 15 years after Shepard’s death, the hope, she said, is to continue the conversation.
“We have a tremendous obligation to Matt and to the other Matt Shepards out there to stand up for them,” she said.
Josue met Shepard when both were attending the American School in Lugano, Switzerland. The documentary follows Josue as she travels to important locations in Shepard’s life, interviews friends and other family members, and teaches the viewers about the Shepard and the tragedy of his loss.
Shepard was out at a bar in Laramie, Wyo., shortly after midnight on Oct. 7, 1998, when two men – Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson – claimed also to be gay and led him offered to drive him home. They instead drove the out to a remote rural area where they robbed and pistol-whipped him, and tied him to a split-rail fence where he was left to die.
He was pronounced dead at an area hospital five days later.
At trial, McKinney claimed he and Henderson were driven to temporary insanity because Shepard had made advances at them. But both defendants ultimately pleaded guilty and are serving life prison terms.
Shepard would have turned 37 this Dec. 1.
The screening of “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Livingston Student Center, at 84 Joyce Kilmer Ave. in Piscataway, N.J. It is free and open to the Rutgers community and the public.
Following the screening will be a discussion with Josue and with Rutgers alum Beth Loffreda, the director of the MFA program in creative writing and founding member of the queer advisory board at the University of Wyoming.
It is being put on by the Rutgers Tyler Clementi Center – which is named for another prominent victim of bullying who was a Rutgers student.
In 2010, Clementi, an openly gay freshman, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after he learned that two students recorded him on a webcam kissing another man.
Hosue said there has been progress over the years, but also too many incidents of bullying, violence and suicide.
The screening of “Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine” is the kickoff event this year for Ally Week.
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