In October 1998, the death of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard came to dominate national headlines, not so much because it happened but, rather, because of how it happened. The first-year University of Wyoming student was brutally beaten and left to die on the prairie outside the town of Laramie – because he was gay. His attackers, local residents Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, claimed that they pretended to be gay to win over Shepard’s confidence as a pretext to robbing him. However, as became apparent during the assailants’ trial, their victim’s sexuality clearly played a pivotal role in the incident. Shepard’s death thus spurred a push for passage of national hate crimes legislation that would include sexual orientation as one of the bill’s qualifying criteria, a goal realized in 2009 with the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
It’s easy to allow ourselves to feel disempowered, especially under conditions where we feel as though our will has been sucked out from underneath us. That can be particularly daunting to those who operate under circumstances that are oppressive and seemingly unrelenting. Claiming our rightful power in those instances can be challenging, but it is possible, as long as we believe in the idea, a notion explored in the heartwarming release, “Wadjda,” now available on DVD and Blu-ray disk.