Judy Shepard, LGBT rights activist and mother of hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard, spoke at the University of Cincinnati on Tuesday, May 5, touting a message of acceptance and education.
The presentation began with a short video that intertwined the stories of Matthew Shepard and James L. Byrd Jr., both victims of hate crimes. Matthew Shepard was a gay man who was beaten and tied to a fence and left for dead because he was gay, and Byrd was a black man who was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for three miles because he was black. Both families have set up foundations in the victims’ names in order to combat hate and prevent future hate crimes. According to Shepard, the hate crime “transcends Matthew. It’s now about saving people, just people.”
On the video, there was a segment on a demonstration. One of the signs read, “Hatred and intolerance destroys all families.”
Shepard then delivered the victim impact statement, outlining Matthew’s life and explaining that “Matt is no longer with us because they [the hate crime perpetrators] learned to hate.” The cure to this hate is education: Come out and show the world how gay people really are. Break down the stereotypes.
To Shepard, hate crimes legislation is not about punishment, but about stopping more minor hate crimes, like anti-gay graffiti, before it escalates into something more serious.
Shepard also addressed the ever-controversial issue of gay marriage. “Same-sex marriage doesn’t affect me. Do I think Dennis [Shepard’s husband] is going to be like ‘Wait, I could have married a man?'” Shepard also pointed out that if people want to save marriage, then they should address the divorce rate. Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, has the lowest divorce rate in the United States.
Like interracial marriage, marriage equality will have to happen through the courts and legislatures, probably not the voters, explained Shepard.
The audience was also urged to contact their congress representatives and senators, because they do work for their constituents after all. Shepard also pointed out that opponents of hate crimes legislation that protects the LGBT community don’t call for an end to all hate crimes legislation, they’re just against it when it comes to the queers.
After the airing of a 20/20 special on different motives for the slaying of Matthew Shepard, a belief has arisen that he was killed because of drugs or a robbery, not because he was gay. Shepard called this “bad journalism” and pointed out that the perpetrators of the crime said in court that they had never met Matthew and during the confession claimed to have killed Matthew because he was gay.
Shepard also explained that she doesn’t have any anger or hate in regards to what happened to her son. “We wouldn’t learn anything or be able to teach anything from that darkness.” She also explains that she blames society as much as the perpetrators for Matthew’s death, because somewhere they learned it was okay to hate and harm another human being because they were different.
Shepard was also asked about the T in LGBT. She explained that most people are at least somewhat okay with the LGB part, it’s the T that is much more confusing and radical. But to Shephard “it doesn’t matter. They are human beings and citizens of this country. That’s why we would should protect T.”
She was also asked about the recent comments of North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, who said “That young man [Matthew Shepard] was killed in a commitment of a robbery, not because he was gay … It was really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills [hate crimes legislation].”
Shepard explained that Fox apologized for using the word hoax, not for her statements, and that Foxx was just perpetuating the bad journalism from the 20/20 special on Matthew. Shepard pointed out that doing your own, original research is critical. But overall, “It was ridiculous and stupid, and she is paying for it.”