As passage of a federal hate crime bill
appears to be nearing its finish line, Judy Shepard, the bill's
biggest advocate, appears to have evolved from the single issue of
fighting against gay hate to a full-time gay rights activist.
Shepard is the mother of Matthew
Shepard, the twenty-one-year-old University of Wyoming student who
was viciously murdered in 1998 by two men he met in a gay bar. He
was beaten and left to die shackled to a post along a rural road near
Shepard has spent much of the last
decade lobbying for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act
that would add disability, gender and sexual orientation to the list
of federal hate crime protections. Representatives approved the bill
earlier this year, but a Senate version – sponsored by the late
Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy – has yet to be finalized.
Shepard is shopping a new book titled
The Meaning of Matthew in a final push to pass the
Speaking Tuesday on NPR's Talk of
the Nation, Shepard sounded assured that her fight for gay and
lesbian rights would not end with passage of the legislation.
“As parents of gay children we see
what society has done to us and to them,” Shepard told host Neal
Conan. “We somehow, either intentionally or unintentionally
perhaps, indoctrinate everyone to think that being gay is wrong. It
isn't wrong, it's just who you are. It's the way you were born.
Nothing about that makes our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender
children different than any other children, except who they love.
And at the end of the day, does that really matter to anybody? It's
their life, it's who they are. And to try and convince them that
they are wrong only damages them irreparably. And suicide is often
the tragic result of that.”
She spoke about how her son's death had
transformed her and the gay community.
“What has happened to Matt has lead
to other things. We now have public discussions, at least in this
country, about the gay community. We have same-sex marriage in
places around the world, and a larger acceptance of the gay
And once again spoke about why hate
crime legislation is important.
“I used to think before what happened
to Matt that crime was crime and all crime had an element of hate. I
was in high school in the sixties during the civil rights movement
and I saw what hate did to a collection of people. I understood the
reasons to legislate in the civil rights era for hate crimes against
race, religion and ethnicity. Because that's what we were seeing;
hate being directed at a community of people. We understood that a
cross burning in someone's yard wasn't meant to intimidate the owner
of the property, but was meant to intimidate the entire
African-American community. It represented lynching and mob
mentality, and the KKK and all that hate that was so visible. What
we see now is that hate directed toward the gay community, toward
Islam, toward all kinds of things that we don't understand, that we
“Hate crime legislation,” Shepard
began, then added, “Well, let me kind of back up here a minute. It
wasn't those two men's thoughts that murdered Matt, it was their
actions. And they singled out Matt solely because he was gay. That
made it the hate crime.”
“[Hate crime legislation] will add
uniformity and consistency to the way we report hate crimes and the
way they happen. We can't really address them until we find out why
they're happening, how they're happening, where they're happening.
It's a crime meant to terrorize the community, not so much the
individual alone, but the community.”