April 10, 2002

Shepard's Mother Talks on The Death of Her Gay Son

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Last night, nearly 700 people gathered in the Emerson Suites, Phillips Hall, at Ithaca College (IC) to hear “Judy Shepard: The Story of Matthew Shepard Told by his Mother.”

Matthew Shepard was a beaten to death in Wyoming solely because he was gay.

With Judy Shepard’s talk, she was able to spark others’ discussion about hate crimes, while adding a personal touch. As she said when she began her lecture, “I’m not a professional speaker, I’m a Mom.”

Though it is difficult for her to speak about her son’s death, she said during a press conference before the lecture, she finds the strength to do it so she may “help other young people facing the same situation Matthew did.”

During her speech, Shepard said “hate comes from a combination of fear and ignorance,” and those committing hate crimes do not realize their actions affect the entire communities surrounding the victims.

When talking about her son’s attackers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, she said, “do I blame those two young men? Of course I do, but I blame society equally … we have become a SIC society. Silent, Indifferent, Complacent.”

She had advice for all different groups of people in her audience. She said it is important to “educate, educate, educate,” and told her audience that, “you have to want to change the world and you have to do that by example.”

She specifically asked for people to stop themselves and others from using hate language, which she sees as having a direct link to hate crimes.

Shepard also stressed that individuals have more power than they think, specifically with the government. She said one of Matthew’s favorite statements was, “‘you can’t bitch if you didn’t vote.'”

For those trying to decide whether or not to be openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, she repeatedly said, “come out and stay out,” but also noted that the individual knows when the time is right.

Jessica Boynton ’03 attended the lecture and noted that Shepard was effective with that message, because “it’s just as hard staying out.”

For the parents of children who have come out, Shepard told them it is their responsibility to love, respect and support their children.

She was asked about her opinions of the media coverage of her son’s story and homosexuality on television. During both the press conference and the question and answer period following her lecture, she said she is “happy with just about any representation [she] see[s] … it creates dialogue, creates awareness and removes some of the mystery.”

For the future, she hopes “that the media will stay for the entire Gay Pride Parade,” and not just for the first few rows of interesting people.

“That’s what America needs to see, the boring people … [who just want] to be happy and find someone to share [their] lives with.” she said.

Shepard hopes the federal government will pass the Hate Crime Bill, for equal rights, including the same rights for same-sex marriages as for heterosexual marriages and an Employment Nondiscrimination Act. She pointed out that “you can still be fired in the United Stages for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

The Matthew Shepard Foundation, which was created by Matthew’s parents, Dennis and Judy, has started many programs to help and educate both those within the gay community and those not within it. With the program “Out in the Cold,” the Foundation is trying to help those who “have been rejected by their communities. They’re on the streets because they have nowhere else to go.”

They are also working on a high school curriculum, “dealing with hate as a general issue.”

Though Judy Shepard is a straight women, she feels she knows about the gay community and coming out.

“She used ‘we’ a lot because she obviously feels she’s a part of the community,” said Bri O’Reilly, an IC student who attended the lecture.

Shepard was brought to IC as part of “Gaypril,” which incorporates “gay pride events thorough the month, sponsored by various groups on campus,” said Candice Guirguis, the executive chair for the IC students activity board (SAB).

The event was sponsored by SAB, as well as the office of the President, office of student affairs and campus life, center for LGBT, education outreach and services, BIGAYLA and Created Equal: Allied in Fighting Homophobia. For more information, visit www.matthewshepardfoundation.org.

Archived article by Rachel Brenner