Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, a gay man murdered in Wyoming, opened the LGBTQIA Conference at University of the Pacific on Feb. 21 with a keynote address about the events that make her son’s name widely-known in the community.
“Matthew always stood up for the acceptance of people’s differences,” said Judy Shepard.
The event welcomed students from all over the western United States.
Each year the conference brings in keynote speakers that have ties to the LGBTQIA community.
Last year, Dustin Lance Black, the openly gay writer of the play “8,” and Peter Paige, an openly gay actor, spoke.
This year the committee selected Shepard and Paul Kawata, founder of the National Minority AIDS Council, to be the speakers.
Shepard became an activist for the LGBTQIA community after losing her son to a hate crime that rocked the nation in the late 1990’s.
“To see someone who lived through such a great tragedy speak so openly and honestly about it and what we as a community need to do to ensure that Matthew Shepard’s murder doesn’t happen again was very touching,” said Matt Hill, Room and Board Conference Committee Chair.
Shepard’s story began in Wyoming, the ninth largest state in the United States and the 49th most populous state.
The Shepard’s were the quintessential American family, nothing out of the ordinary: Dennis, a father and safety engineer; Judy, a mother and teacher and their sons Matthew and Logan.
Matthew was a political science major at University of Wyoming, and lived his life as an openly gay man.
When Judy Shepard received a 5 a.m. call her world collapsed.
Matthew had been attacked in Laramie for being gay.
The trip back from Saudi Arabia, where she and her husband were living at the time, was hard. The next 48 hours seemed like an eternity, all she could think about was her son tied to a fence post all alone for 18 hours, she said.
Upon arrival in Colorado, where Matthew was taken, the Shepards’ were ushered into his hospital room.
Judy Shepard walked up to her son and began to recognize her little boy from the bump on his ear, his long lashes, to the blue in his partially opened but vacant eyes.
At 12:53 a.m. on Monday, October 12, 1998 Matthew lost his life at the young age of 21.
Before the trial began the news crossed the nation and donations and outpouring of support were sent to the family to help with medical costs, yet the Shepards’ felt the money would be better spent in starting a foundation in Matthew’s memory.
That’s how the Matthew Shepard Foundation was born. It strives to erase hate in society, to put LGBTQIA youth first and promote equality for all LGBTQIA people.
Hearing Shepard talk about the death of her son brought those in attendance to tears.
“It humanizes the story of hate crimes. There is a face to the loss and tragedy, making it easier to empathize and think about hate crimes in a more human way, rather than a concept and act detached from our lives,” said Justine Tang, a University of the Pacific Pride Alliance member.
Shepard was telling the story of her son, Matthew, to stand up against hate. Shepard’s main idea was to not let your story go untold.
“Want things to get better? Then tell your story,” said Shepard. “Without [your story] it will not get there.”