Judy Shepard Advocates for Openness of Mind and Civil Rights
Judy Shepard of the Matthew Shepard Foundation gave a speech to discuss gay rights while relating it to the death of her son and advised people who aren’t sure how to open up about being gay.
The Alumni hall was packed with people who came to see Matthew Shepard’s mother tell her story, which was put on by CCSU along with President Miller and P.R.I.DE.
“You must tell your stories or else people will go back to the stereotypes,” Shepard warned. Shepard said that the word “gay” can be used as a derogatory word, yet people usually get away with it without repercussions.
“This is a civil rights issue, plain and simple,” said Shepard.
Matthew Shepard, who died at the age of 21, was tortured and beaten by Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, who both later received life sentences in prison. Shepard met the two one night in October, 1998 in
a bar in Laramie, Wyo. and was kidnapped. Shepard was beaten into a coma and tied to a fence to die. After he was discovered 18 hours later, he laid in a hospital bed for days where he died after receiving life support.
Judy Shepard described the sight of her son lying in a hospital bed with bandages all over him and tubes running throughout his body. She told of the hours spent by Matthew’s bedside and the pain that Matthew’s younger brother Logan was going through seeing his brother struggling to live.
Shepard encouraged the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members of the audience to tell friends and family or they run the risk of outing by someone else. She said if she and her husband Dennis weretold Matthew was gay the day of the incident, it would have killed them because they would have known that Matthew didn’t feel he could open up to his family.
“That’s the way you make change, by educating people on what you don’t have,” said Shepard.
She encouraged each LGBTQ person to educate others and become a spokesperson for the LGBTQ community on every level – at home, school, or the office.
Shepard said that Matthew at first said he would have taken a pill so he didn’t have to be different, but later decided it wasn’t true and that he loved his life the way it was.
“That’s the best thing you can do is be you,” said Shepard.
Shepard told the LGBTQ members of the audience that they needed to remind their families that they’re gay because friends and family may tend to forget. She told them to expose themselves for who they truly were to their friends and family and use that awareness to push for civil rights.
Matthew was a student at the University of Wyoming and majored in political science after having years of interest in current events and politics. Shepard’s mother said this started when he was a child and was described as a bright individual who was accepting of everyone.
“He knew that judging and stereotyping was a loss of an opportunity,” said Shepard.
“What makes us individuals is how we live our lives,” said Shepard.
Shepard also said that same-sex couples should have the right to get married and that it’s no different from any other marriage.
Shepard said that she didn’t blame Henderson and McKinney for the death of her son, but blamed society for making people think it was fine to commit such crimes.
-Matthew Kiernan, News Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org