Twenty years after he was beaten and left hanging on a fence post to die in rural Wyoming, Matthew Shepard will be interred Friday at Washington's National Cathedral alongside other notable Americans.
Shepard, a 21-year-old gay college student in Laramie, Wyoming, became a symbol for human rights and violence against the LGBTQ community after he died in October 1998. His murder forced the U.S. to look at its treatment of non-heterosexual citizens and galvanized a movement of greater acceptance.
"We've given much thought to Matt's final resting place, and we found the Washington National Cathedral is an ideal choice, as Matt loved the Episcopal church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming," said Judy Shepard, his mother. "For the past 20 years, we have shared Matt's story with the world. It's reassuring to know he now will rest in a sacred spot where folks can come to reflect on creating a safer, kinder world."
His parents, Dennis and Judy, created the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and pushed for stronger state and federal laws against hate crimes after his death. Their efforts led to legislation signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2009, which recognized the killings of Matthew and James Byrd Jr., a black man murdered in Texas in 1998. Byrd had been dragged behind a truck driven by white supremacists for three miles.
Hate crimes in the U.S. rose sharply over the past four years, but declined in the first half of 2018, police data show.
The declines are significant if they hold, because they follow four years of increases in hate crimes in the nation's top 10 cities, an uptrend many experts expect to continue amid an increasingly polarized political environment and a rise in white nationalism, among other factors.
"Matthew Shepard's death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people, and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are," said the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral. "The cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place."
After a celebration and thanksgiving service that will be open to the public at the second-largest church building in the U.S., Matthew Shepard's remains will be interred among those of more than 200 other people, including Helen Keller and President Woodrow Wilson.
In September, the cathedral held a nationally televised memorial service for the late Senator John McCain, who died of brain cancer. The cathedral is formally known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.