Last night, I had the opportunity to see Judy Shepard speak. What was even more meaningful is I took my own mother with me. The story of Matthew Shepard’s death is familiar and yet no less meaningful. The woman who continues to tell it and to advocate for our community on his behalf is short and soft-spoken, but she is an ally most graceful.
Judy reads the victim impact statement she read to the court over a decade ago, then shares many of her thoughts about what it means to be gay while painting a loving portrait of her son. The Matthew she describes is the kind of guy you wished you knew. It’s a shame the way his story has been twisted in years passed to paint him as some kind of meth head, but Judy reminds us that in the trial, there was no doubt what motivated the crime. It was hate.
She describes society as SIC: silent, indifferent, complacent. I found myself worrying that the college students there at Bucknell University might be pacified by the catharsis of her words—that simply feeling bad about Matthew’s death might somehow count as being a good ally. I hope they see Judy as a model, an example of what being an ally really ought to be, and not just an excuse not to be one themselves.
You are who you are and you love who you love and that’s all there is to it.
Such simple words that can have such a powerful impact on young people’s lives. One of the young men who asked a question seemed himself to be very much struggling with his own religious beliefs and sexual identity, and I can only hope Judy’s words helped him find some solace.
Judy had two calls to action: 1) Educate, educate, educate! and 2) We have to share our stories.
I couldn’t agree with her more. I’m in awe of this woman’s power and strength and so thankful that I was able to hear her story from her directly with my own mother who I love so dear. If you ever have a chance to see her, please go out of your way to do so.
Here is Judy speaking at the National Equality March in October 2009 (I was proud to march with her that day!):
And if you’re curious, here’s an NPR story from October 12, 2009 about the way the Matthew Shepard story has been distorted over the years, including the 20/20 story which Judy said “should be a case study on bad journalism.”