Hate-crime victim’s mother reflects

Judy Shepard and her husband founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Jerret Raffety

Judy Shepard, the mother of a Wyoming student who was killed in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime, met with community members Friday at Rarig Center to discuss adversity for the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community.

Following her son’s death, Shepard and her husband, Dennis Shepard, founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness of discrimination and diversity issues.

On Friday, The Minnesota Daily spoke with Judy Shepard about these issues and how they involve students.

What does the Matthew Shepard Foundation do?
Personally, I lobby for legislation and, as a foundation, we try to educate people about the issues. We have materials on the Web site that are downloadable, we have a curriculum coming out and we have a video on homeless gay and lesbian youth.

It’s about raising awareness. Physically, there’s not much else we can do but start everyone talking.

What resources would you recommend to students interested in getting involved in GLBT advocacy?
There are a lot of places on the Internet to go to. One place I’d recommend is the Human Rights Campaign Web site. They have candidates that they endorse and ways to get involved with their campaign. (They also) have people you can call on a state level just to become involved in the campaign.

You said students need to be involved politically. How do they start doing that?
Most of them will have a local office, at the very least a statewide office. They have fax numbers, they have e-mails, they have snail-mail addresses. Call them, even if you have to leave messages. You’ll rarely get to speak to the actual representative. But they have office staff, and numbers count.

Sheer volume makes a difference, so any of those means is perfectly wonderful.

Lots of national organizations – (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) or the (Human Rights Campaign) have talking points on their Web sites that give you counterarguments that are logical and easily defendable. Local and state equality organizations will also have talking points.

How has Matthew’s death reaffirmed and inspired you about advocating for equality?
It’s the realization that there are elements in our society who would deny my son the right to be a full U.S. citizen based on his sexuality.

It just seems ridiculous to me. I’m out in the public eye, because I got pushed out into the public eye. I’m not sure I ever would have done this without a big ole kick in the butt to get out there and do something. It’s the understanding that I can do something to affect it.

You mentioned that the war on same-sex marriage is almost over at the symposium, could you elaborate on that a little more?
I think the war for equality for gays and lesbians in the community is over, and gay marriage will be the last bridge we cross.

As soon as we start talking and sharing our stories, people are going to understand that this isn’t affecting anyone else. The way that it has been presented by those who oppose same-sex marriage is, in my view, misinformation and a misinterpretation.

It’s a civil rights issue, just like it was in the ’60s about equality. “Separate but equal” doesn’t really work. We know it doesn’t work, and equal rights need to be available for everyone who works for the same ways to get them. They need to be available for everyone. It’s just a matter of time.

What advice do you give GLBT youth about being out without fear?
First, everyone needs to understand that there’s a time and place to do it. If your tuition is at issue as far as coming out to your parents, then maybe now is not the best time.

It’s about personal comfort and how ready you are to be out. And maybe there are people you need to start with, like your extended family of friends at school, the gay-straight alliance at school to have a support system in place before you decide to do it so that you can talk to other people about their experiences. Sharing, talking is really the most important thing. Understanding that you’re not alone is a big thing.

What are the main issues facing the GLBT community today?
(Students) need to become politically aware, and register to vote, and find candidates who support their issues. Go to work for the campaigns. You know, do something to actually support them.

Talk to friends, and join organizations. You need to share your stories, because people around here won’t know the trouble you have unless you share your stories.