Judy Shepard, Mother of Hate Crime Victim, Urges PA Students to Embrace Diversity

Wednesday’s All-School Meeting ended with tears and a standing ovation for guest speaker Judy Shepard. Judy Shepard is the mother of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay man who was murdered ten years ago in a hate crime. On October 7, 1998, Matthew Shepard was tied to a split-rail fence where he was beaten and left to die. After 18 hours, he was found and rushed to a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. “I don’t understand how anyone could hate someone that much to do to them what they did to my son,” said Shepard. Judy Shepard spoke about the initial fear and panic when she first received the news that her son was hospitalized. Describing her family’s trip to the hospital, Shepard said, “The 25-hour trip after 19 hours of waiting to leave felt like an eternity.” Matthew died five days after he was found, on October 12 at 12:53 a.m., with his family by his side. Dominic DeJesus ’10, Co-President of GSA, said that he was “tearing up a little bit” during Shepard’s speech. DeJesus said that Shepard was one of a dozen candidates chosen to speak at Wednesday’s ASM. These candidates included Reverend Eugene Robinson, an openly gay Episcopalian Bishop, and John Amaechi, the first NBA basketball player to come out as gay. Shepard was selected by a committee of students and faculty working with GSA to celebrate the club’s twentieth anniversary, said DeJesus. “A number of people were mentioned, but Judy Shepard’s name kept coming up,” DeJesus said. Annie Li ’10 said, “I thought she had a very powerful message, but her speech was a little redundant. We are a very aware school and I think the way she presented could have been better.” Ryan Canavan ’12 said, “I though she was really interesting and brought up a lot of good points. She seemed calm and kind, but at times she almost sounded angry and bitter at the world.” Shepard said that her nephew’s wife first encouraged her to tell Matthew’s story to the world. “If they can see that I can do it, then they can do it to,” said Shepard. Judy and her husband Dennis established the Matthew Shepard Foundation in memory of their son to help “erase hate in our society, putting GLBT youth first and ensuring equality for all GLBT Americans,” according to the foundation’s website. Shepard said that the foundation is “still going strong” and is now working on accreditation for GLBT shelters.