For a decade now, the memory of Matthew Shepard has carried on in the form of an online safe haven.
“LGBT youth in rural America, like Matt, really didn’t have the gathering spaces and opportunities to build relationships and connect with other queer youth that kids in a more urban setting were privileged to have,” said Robin Wood, deputy director of The Matthew Shepard Foundation.
Thus, Matthew’s Place was born, named for the 22-year-old gay man who was murdered in 1998 in Laramie, WY. Two men took him out to a remote field, tied him to a fence, and beat him close to death. The next morning, a passerby came upon his body and initially mistook him for a scarecrow, he was beaten so badly.
For 16 years, the foundation has worked to erase hate and promote a world of understanding and compassion, Wood said, and Matthew’s Place is part of the puzzle. While some LGBT youth are without community centers with youth programming and social spaces for them, the online forum does just that.
Originally starting as a simple message board, it’s since evolved to a site filled with stories from older LGBT people with tips and anecdotes about growing up gay as well as a dozen bloggers who keep a regular online diary. With technology constantly changing for youth, the site has kept up to continue to provide a safe place for people to access information.
Last year, there were more than 115,000 unique visitors to Matthew’s Place from the United States and 180 countries, including typically anti-gay places like Uganda, Qatar, Iran, and Jamaica. While the site is geared mainly to teens and young adults, people in their 60s have benefited from Matthew’s Place.
Bloggers and writers, led by journalist Romero, cover topics such as coming out to your parents, questions about gender transition, discussing your sexuality during job interviews, and other items regarding becoming a successful LGBT adult. Right now, they are doing a series on asexuality.
Jaime Kruse, a transgender man studying law, runs his blog “Sky’s the Limit” and has been especially active in posting and commenting on different topics, such as a step-by-step guide on how to change your gender identity on Facebook after the social networking site expanded to more than 50 options earlier this year.
Eventually, the team behind Matthew’s Place would like to add a discussion board to the site, but with youngsters on the site, there are safety concerns to keep them safe from bullies and predators. They’re hoping to launch that within the next few years.
“These kids are the same age that Matt was when he was killed, and being able to show that they’re living healthy, fulfilled lives is really just an important part of ensuring that his legacy is remembered,” Wood said.
Matthew’s Place can be found online at MatthewsPlace.com. For more information about the work the foundation does, visit MatthewShepard.org.