Judy Shepard says have acceptance, not ignorance, in life

Tristan Buirley

With around 50 people of ranging ages and backgrounds in the audience, Kent State hosted Judy Shepard, whose son was killed in a hate crime for being gay, Thursday night in the Schwartz Center auditorium as a part of the 45th remembrance of the May 4shootings.

Judy Shepard is the mother of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime in October 1998. After the murder of her son, Judy and her husband created The Matthew Shepard Foundation in his memory.

According to its website, “The Foundation seeks to ‘Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion, & Acceptance (sic).’” Judy came to Kent State to talk to the audience about that mission.

Jehan Hill, the graduate assistant for the May 4 Visitors Center, said the center hoped that everyone would hear Judy’s message of acceptance and tolerance.

“I hope that I can get a unique perspective of Matt’s story and understand how to spread tolerance,” Brian Katona, senior mathematics major, said.

Lydia Butler, graduate higher education and student personnel major, said she was inspired to come to the event because she saw the play The Laramie Project, which is about the reaction to Matthew’s murder.

“This is a very unique perspective,” Butler said. “I’m interested to hear her speak and how she moved through the events because I don’t know her story.”

Judy started her speech by saying, “This is a reminder of even when laws are passed and hearts and minds are changed, not all are.”

She talked about Matthew and brought up how people must bridge the gap between the older generation who lived through the first gay rights movements and the younger generation who have a whole new struggle. To bring the old struggle to current times, she read her impact statement from the trials.

An impact statement is information about the victim of a crime that helps to show how he or she, or people close to them, were affected by the crime. Judy said that people needed her impact statement because “you need to see (Matthew) as we do to understand our loss.”

Judy talked about a young Matthew and how he grew up, as well as how his family moved around the world.

“There aren’t enough words to describe how much I love and miss him,” Judy said.

She talked about the crime and how everyone who visited Matthew thought that they had more time to see him as he laid there in the hospital bed, “his head wrapped in bandages and tubes sticking out of him everywhere,” she said.

After sharing the impact statement, Judy urged the audience to “tell your stories.”

“Be who you are. Be the best of who you are,” were some words of advice that Judy had. She told the audience that there are allies to their struggles everywhere, that they just have to “educate, educate, educate.”

Judy also talked politics and about how voter apathy in the LGBTQ community is “rampant,” urging people to support candidates who support them.

“We have a chance to fix this,” she said. “We have an opportunity to bring the gay community up to the standards that are required.

“We’ve been told to separate and isolate, and look at where that’s got us,” Judy said as she wrapped her speech up. “When I hear people say ‘Let’s be more tolerant,’ I say, ‘No, let’s be more accepting.’ We don’t tolerate people. That’s not enough. We accept, and someday, we will learn to embrace.”

After listening to the speech, Butler had one thing that stood out above anything else about the speech.

“It was very emotional,” she said. “It was very interesting to hear.”

One thing that Butler said resonated with her from the speech was the simplicity of what Judy was asking.

“What she says is so simple that it’s mind blowing when people don’t get it,” she said.

Contact Tristan Buirley at [email protected].