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Teaching Tolerance magazine pays tribute to Matthew Shepard, 20 years after his death

Nearly 20 years after Matthew Shepard’s murder drew widespread attention to violence against people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, many LGBTQ youth still do not feel safe in their schools and communities.

Teachers across the country, however, can use Shepard’s story to help students empathize with the struggles and strengths of their LGBTQ classmates, and foster a safe school environment for all students, according to the latest issue of the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance magazine that was released this week.

The Book of Matthew,” as the article is titled, offers a poignant tribute to Shepard ahead of the twentieth anniversary of his death on Oct. 7, 1998. It includes a poem written by Teaching Tolerance Senior Writer Cory Collins that honors Matthew’s life and legacy. It also provides a comprehensive review of Shepard’s story, the work being done in his name, and ways teachers can bring his story into the classroom.

Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten by two men, tied to a fence and deserted. After 18 hours, he was taken to a hospital, where he died five days later.

“The Matthew Shepard story talks about the invisibility of violence against the LGBTQ community before his murder,” said Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, an anti-bias education project of the SPLC. “His legacy lives on in the work being done to expand protections for the LGBTQ community. Teachers can draw from his story to help students empathize with their LGBTQ classmates, and offer support for them.”

The magazine also features an excerpt from Teaching Tolerance’s LGBT Best Practices Guide, which was released this week. The guide offers tips for schools that want to make their policies more inclusive, and that want to help their LGBTQ students thrive. A copy of the guide can be viewed and downloaded at

The magazine’s cover story – “The School-to-Deportation Pipeline” – chronicles the drama that unfolded when undocumented student Dennis Rivera-Sarmiento was arrested following a scuffle with a fellow classmate in Houston, Texas. As a result of a new state law that required law enforcement to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Rivera-Sarmiento was transferred from the county jail and bounced through three different immigration prisons, including one located more than an hour from his home.

His story underscores the threat of deportation faced by undocumented students in schools, and the need for schools to rethink punitive disciplinary practices and an over-reliance on school police.

This is Not a Drill” offers specific steps schools can take to support undocumented students and their families during enhanced immigration enforcement.

Other articles in the latest edition of Teaching Tolerance help educators unpack the term “white privilege,” highlight new research on recruiting and retaining teachers of color, and encourage teachers to share lessons offered by the new Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The complete Fall issue can be viewed online at:

Teaching Tolerance magazine, which is published three times a year, is the nation’s leading journal serving educators on diversity issues. It is distributed free of charge to nearly half a million educators nationwide.