Judy Shepard discusses lessons from her son's life
Oct. 8, 2004
By Marisa Palmieri
Judy Shepard, mother of hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard, shared her son’s values of dignity and respect to a packed audience at Ohio University’s Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium Thursday night.
“I’m not a professional speaker,” the soft spoken high school teacher fro Laramie, Wy., says. “I’m a mom. I’m a mom with a story and many opinions.”
After introductions from Mickey Hart, Ohio University’s coordinator of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Programs and University First Lady Deborah McDavis, a video explained hate speech, hate crimes and the 1998 murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, who was attacked, tied to a fence and left to die on the prairie – because he was gay.
Throughout the evening Shepard reiterated to the crowd of students, staff, faculty and community members five major points, which touched on the importance of voting and educating people on gay, lesbian and transgender issues. Shepard directed this concept, what she calls “coming out and staying out,” to both members of the gay community and their allies. “That’s the only way we’re going to change things, honestly, is to remove the mystery of the gay community and talk, talk, talk,” she says. “Hate is a learned behavior. We’re not born knowing how to do it. We learn it.”
“Do we think it’s easier to let the language continue, the jokes to continue?” Shepard says. “Those jokes are not funny. Do we just think it’s easier to do that than try to step in and change things?”
During the “Q & A” session at the end of the lecture, audience members turned to Shepard for advice on tough issues like homosexuality, religion and the military. One crowd member asked if she forgives her son’s killers. “I don’t blame them for what they did. I blame society,” she says. “So forgiveness really isn’t an issue for me.”
Shepard even used humor throughout her talk to broach certain topics, to eruptions of laughter by the crowd. “I mean c’mon, we all know a Jack and we all know a Will,” she says, looking to television characters from “Will & Grace” to address gay stereotypes.
Shepard also read her victim impact statement – a court testimony that she gave at the sentencing of one of the men convicted with her son’s murder. She described Matthew as more than a son, as a friend, a confidant. She talked of his understanding of respect and tolerance for all. “He knew judging, stereotyping, categorizing was a loss of an opportunity,” she says.
And it’s clear that she agrees with her son’s ideology. “At the very least – the very least – we owe each other respect,” she says. “The only thing that makes us different is who we love. And at the end of the day does that really matter?”
Marisa Palmieri is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.