Matthew Shepard’s parents reflect on son’s legacy, criticize Trump

By : Michael K. Lavers OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LGBT MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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Matthew Shepard’s parents on Oct. 23 said their son would have been vehemently opposed to President Trump and his administration’s efforts to curtail LGBT rights.

“He would have found it ridiculous,” Matthew Shepard’s mother, Judy Shepard, told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview.

Matthew Shepard’s father, Dennis Shepard, noted his son protested against then-U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) when he was a college student.

“He was always an activist against inequality and discrimination,” said Dennis Shepard.

Oct. 12 marked 20 years since Matthew Shepard died after Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who he met at a bar in Laramie, Wyo., brutally beat him and left him tied to a fence. Dennis and Judy Shepard remain vocal LGBT rights advocates through their work with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which they created after their son’s murder.

Dennis and Judy Shepard on Oct. 25 will donate some of their son’s papers, photographs, theater scripts, notebooks, a wedding ring and other personal items, including a Superman cape that was part of a childhood Halloween costume, to the National Museum of American History. George Mason University School of Theater is scheduled to perform excerpts of “The Laramie Project.”

“It was a real honor they would consider Matt’s things,” Judy Shepard told the Blade.

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Matthew Shepard (Photo courtesy of the Matthew Shepard Foundation)

Judy Shepard: Police response to hate crimes needs to improve

The Dupont Festival has organized a candlelight vigil to commemorate Matthew Shepard’s life that will take place in Dupont Circle on Oct. 25.

Rev. Alex Dyer of St. Thomas’ Parish Episcopal Church will preside over the vigil at which retired New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who in 2003 became the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, is scheduled to speak. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington will also perform.

“This will be a short, respectful and dignified vigil,” said the Dupont Festival in a statement.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes will be interred inside Washington National Cathedral’s crypt in a private ceremony on Oct. 26. Robinson is among those who are scheduled to speak at a “service of thanksgiving and remembrance” over which Washington Episcopal Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde will preside.

The Shepards have kept their son’s ashes in an urn.

Matthew Shepard Foundation Executive Director Jason Marsden told a Wyoming newspaper earlier this month the Shepards were concerned anti-gay vandals may have targeted their son’s final resting place. Judy Shepard told the Blade she and her family had considered scattering Matthew Shepard’s ashes but his younger brother, Logan Shepard, said “he really needs a place to go.”

“We were all worried about security and protecting the place he goes,” said Judy Shepard.

Judy Shepard told the Blade she spoke with Robinson about interring her son’s ashes at the cathedral.

“From there it just snowballed into this wonderful week of perfectly timed events,” she said.

Then-President Obama in 2011 signed a federal hate crimes law that bares Matthew Shepard’s name.

Trump after the June 12, 2016, massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., reiterated his calls to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told the Blade during an interview a few months later that Trump was “promoting hate” after what had been the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017.

A National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report notes the number of LGBT and queer people and/or those with HIV who were reported killed between January and August 2017, was 29 percent higher than the same period in 2016. More than 20 transgender women of color have been reported murdered so far this year.

Judy Shepard told the Blade hate crimes statistics are often incomplete, in part, because victims are frequently reluctant to report them to the police. She also said law enforcement officials need more training on how to adequately respond to hate crimes.

“We know there’s more of them, but the reporting is really sketchy,” said Judy Shepard. “We also know in general reporting a hate crime is hard, following up on it is hard.”

The Shepards spoke with the Blade two days after the New York Times reported the Trump administration has proposed the removal of trans people from the definition of “sex” under federal civil rights law.

Judy Shepard told the Blade the Justice Department under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not devoting as many resources to hate crimes and other LGBT-specific issues as it did during the Obama administration. She also said she and her husband no longer work with the State Department on LGBT and intersex topics abroad.

‘I hope he would be proud’

Judy Shepard told the Blade in 2014 during an interview in Mexico City that her son’s death is “still really hard.” She and her husband both reiterated this point on Oct. 23.

Judy and Dennis Shepard also said their son would be proud of the work they are doing in his honor.

“I hope he would be proud,” Judy Shepard told the Blade. “I hope he would be proud of everyone else who is doing. He would be surprised 20 years later we would still be doing it.”

Dennis Shepard added the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s work remains important, in part, because of the Trump administration’s continued impact.

“We have to start building everything back up again, getting the social decency we had before and respect,” said Dennis Shepard. “It’s going to take a long time to get back to where we should be.”

Lou Chibbaro, Jr., contributed to this story.

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Dennis and Judy Shepard speak at the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City on Oct. 30, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Williams)

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