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Shepard speaks against hate

Anna Boarini | Friday, April 15, 2011

Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming resident who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime 12 years ago, spoke at DeBartolo Hall Thursday night as part of  Core Council’s StaND Against Hate Week.

Core Council member Brandon Buchanan said the message they want to spread focuses on combating hate, not engaging in a religious or political debate.

“This is not a political or ideological stance,” he said. “It is saying that hate is not okay for anything and asking what are we going to do about it.”

Buchanan said the week’s events, including Shepard’s speech, allow members of the community to come together at events and engage in open dialogue to provide individuals with the tools to create a better campus community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) students. These events also help students become better allies for the cause.

Shepard became an anti-hate and gay rights activist in the wake of her son’s murder.

“I love and miss him more than I can express,” Shepard said. “He was my son, my first born, but more than that he was my friend.”

Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., but his parents lived in Saudi Arabia at the time of his death. When they were informed of his hospitalization, they rushed home to see their son.

“It was an eternity of not knowing if Matt was even still alive,” Shepard said. “All I could see was Matt alone on the prairie and tied to a fence post for 18 hours.”

When Shepard and her husband arrived at their son’s side in Fort Collins, Colo., she could not recognize the figure lying in the hospital bed.

“I wasn’t even sure it that was Matt,” she said. “But as I approached him, I could tell that this was my precious son.”

Shepard said she recognized her son’s blue eyes, one of which was partially open, and a bump on his ear.

“[But] the twinkle of life wasn’t there anymore,” she said.

Matthew died two days after his family and friends came to Colorado to be with him.

“Matt is no longer with us because two men learned that it is okay to hate,” Shepard said. “Society condones or is at least indifferent to violence against people that are different.”

Shepard now uses Matt’s story to combat hate against all minorities. She said ignorance among the greater community prevents the gay community from achieving full equality.

Although she blames her son’s murderers for his death, she also blames society.

“Do I blame the young men who killed Matt? Of course I do,” she said. “But I blame society equally for creating an environment that made them think it was ok to do that. We as a society need to atone.”

Shepard said American society wrongly treats the gay community like second-class citizens.

“This is about civil rights, pure and simple. We deny them things we have no right to deny them,” she said.

Shepard said she wants to promote acceptance rather than just tolerance of diversity.

“It’s just not that hard,” she said. “This is about humanity and being kind. You tolerate bad hair — you don’t tolerate people. You accept them.”

In order to promote the end of hate crimes against the gay community and minorities in general, Shepard said everyone must work to remedy this issue by speaking with state representatives and voting.

She said it is not a matter of liking gay people or not. Rather, it is a matter of respecting people for who they are and affording them the civil rights they deserve, especially the right to marriage.

“You don’t like gay people getting married? You don’t like gay weddings? Then don’t have one,” Shepard said. “I’m not asking you to become their new best friend, I am asking you to grant them equal rights.”

Overall, Shepard said the problem of hate could be changed through education and acceptance.

“Educate, educate, educate,” Shepard said. “Bring light where you see darkness, bring freedom where there is fear because you are who you are and you love who you love.”