Campaign launches for Matthew Shepard US postage stamp

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday December 1, 2023
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A campaign is underway in support of a Matthew Shepard U.S. postal stamp. Courtesy the stamp campaign committee.<br>
A campaign is underway in support of a Matthew Shepard U.S. postal stamp. Courtesy the stamp campaign committee.

A campaign is underway in support of seeing a U.S. postage stamp be issued in honor of Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming college student whose death 25 years ago rocked the nation and led to the passage of historic federal legislation. The effort is officially being launched Friday, December 1, to mark what would have been Shepard's 47th birthday.

Serving as honorary co-chairs of the campaign are gay San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, lesbian former Salt Lake City mayor Jackie Biskupski, and gay LGBTQ rights activist and political fundraiser Terry Bean. Dennis and Judy Shepard, who cofounded a foundation in honor of their son, have also signed on as honorary co-chairs.

"Matt's murder was a wake up call to folks who were oblivious to hate crimes committed against members of the LGBTQ+ community. It alerted them to hate crimes committed against other marginalized communities," stated Judy Shepard. "It is important to remember and recognize that hate and violence shouldn't be tolerated in a civilized society. Matt became the face of fighting hate crimes and working toward solutions. This stamp will be a wonderful way to keep his legacy alive."

Shepard was brutally attacked on the night of October 6, 1998, tied to a fence outside of Laramie, Wyoming, and left to die. Found by rescuers and taken to a local hospital, he would succumb six days later on October 12 to the severe head injuries he had received.

His murder attracted intense media coverage and is one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history. It would galvanize activists across the country and led to the passage in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Co-named in honor of a Black man who was tied to the back of a truck and dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas in 1998, the act expanded a 1969 federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.

Thursday night the Washington National Cathedral held its annual service honoring Shepard's legacy. His ashes were interred at the Cathedral in 2018, marked with a plaque dedicated in 2019.

"As we witness an unsettling surge in hate speech and discrimination, Matthew's legacy calls us to confront bigotry by fostering greater love and acceptance, and urges us to embrace people of all backgrounds," stated the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral. "The Cathedral is proud to play our part in this important and necessary struggle."

The International Imperial Court System is behind the Shepard stamp campaign. It is the philanthropic drag organization's latest push to honor significant LGBTQ individuals with a postal stamp, having successfully petitioned for the stamp honoring the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk issued in 2014.

"Matthew Shepard has become an international symbol for acceptance, tolerance, and his legacy is a stand against hate of any kind," said gay San Diego City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, chair of the court's national stamp campaign. "Issuing a commemorative stamp in Matthew Shepard's honor would not only memorialize his life and legacy but also represent our collective stand against hate in all forms and our unwavering commitment to a more inclusive and compassionate society."

As the Bay Area Reporter's Political Notebook column noted in October, the court and other groups reissued their call for the issuance of a stamp honoring deceased gay Black civil rights leader Bayard Rustin ahead of the release of Netflix's biopic "Rustin" in early November.

The imperial court, founded in San Francisco in 1965, also has been pushing the postal service to issue stamps honoring three deceased drag performers. They include court founder Jose Julio Sarria, a drag queen whose 1961 bid for a San Francisco supervisor seat marked the first by an out LGBTQ candidate, and transgender New York activists Marsha P. Johnson, and Sylvia Rivera.

As the B.A.R. has previously reported, Gloria and Biskupski had also agreed to serve as honorary chairs of the drag stamp campaign.

In addition to its calls for letters in support of those stamps and the one for Rustin, the court is now asking people to submit letters backing the Shepard stamp to the Postal Service's Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee. Each year it suggests commemorative stamp ideas to the U.S. postmaster general, who makes the final determination.

Only deceased individuals are eligible to be featured on a stamp, and they can't be honored in such a manner until three years following their death. The approval process for new stamps usually takes about three years.

If the committee decides not to recommend a subject for issuance as a stamp, the proposal can be submitted again for reconsideration following a three-year interval, according to its stamp selection process rules. As its website notes, "The Postal Service will honor extraordinary and enduring contributions to American society, history, culture, or environment."

For more information and to e-sign a letter to support the Matthew Shepard Stamp Campaign, visit its website here.

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