Your Vote, Your Voice

by Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard
Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation

"If you don't vote, you can't bitch.” That's what my son, Matthew, used to say. After he turned 18, one of the first things he did when he moved to a new location was register to vote. He understood that the right to vote was also a privilege, a responsibility, and a chance to be heard. When Matthew was beaten to death in 1998, anti-gay hate stole Matthew's right to vote. Today, the Matthew Shepard Foundation and I are asking you to vote with him in mind this November.

In the eight years since Matthew was murdered, I have traveled around the country speaking to millions of people - including over a million college students - about the importance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights issues and hate-crimes legislation. One thing that has struck me again and again is the lack of political involvement within the community. Polls suggest that numbers for voter registration and voter participation within the LGBT community are shockingly low. 

The Matthew Shepard Foundation is undertaking an aggressive "Get-Out-the-Vote" campaign this year to bring attention to this issue and to promote an increase in voter participation by LGBT people and allies. But what I really want to ask those in the community who are not registered or who have not voted recently is: what the heck are you thinking?!

At a time when the stakes have never been higher and LGBT issues are - once again - in the forefront of the media and being manipulated to have a potentially negative impact on our community, this lack of involvement is totally unacceptable. A primarily political tactic utilized throughout the nation by people who oppose LGBT civil rights was tapping into homophobic fears and directly targeting the LGBT community. Legislation and ballot initiatives that will negatively impact the lives of LGBT people and families for generations to come are on many local and state ballots this election cycle. Wake up, people: we are under attack!

In the current election and the elections that follow, we must make sure that the voice of the LGBT and allied community - in all of its diversity - is heard loud and clear. We need to educate ourselves about the issues and the candidates and reach out to our friends and families and get them involved as well. We need to hold each other accountable when it comes to voting - and, of course, we also need to hold those who are elected accountable. If we allow ourselves and each other to remain immobilized by apathy or pessimism, what we are really doing is colluding with those who oppose us. Friends don't let friends not vote. There is an old maxim that goes, "If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem.” From my perspective, if you don't vote, you become in your passivity a part of the hate.

So what do you need to do to become part of the solution? There are five tasks that you can do that will make a difference: one, REGISTER to vote; two, LEARN the issues - find out what candidates want to do for you-and to you; three, PASS IT ON, educate your family, friends and business associates about the issues affecting the LGBT community today and encourage them to use their vote; four, actually VOTE in the election; and five, no matter who is elected, STAY INVOLVED and hold your elected officials accountable. You can go to our website for more information and to PLEDGE to vote this November 7th.

Matthew's wallet always contained his voter registration card. He took his responsibility seriously. Matthew will never vote again. Today, I am asking you to vote for him. Use your voice. Make a difference for this generation and the next.

Photo by Tanushree Rao on Unsplash

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