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By Ashley Hart
SAGINAW – The Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts at Saginaw Valley State University was filled to capacity on Feb. 1 to hear Judy Shepard, mother of the late Matthew Shepard, speak against hate.
Shepard’s presentation, entitled “Tragedy and the Consequences of Hate,” began with a video. “Fag” and “queer” were yelled by teens on screen directly at the audience putting them in the place of a person who has been harassed. Images of the KKK, Hitler, and Japanese internment camps stressed that hate was not strictly a LGBT issue and that everyone could work towards ending hate and teaching respect.
Gay Straight Alliance President Aaron Brown introduced Shepard. She began by saying that in October 1998 her 21-year-old son was killed because of anti-gay hate. She told the audience she was not a professional speaker and was actually quite shy and nervous in front of crowds but she said, “He (Matthew) is up there helping me do this.”
Shepard described getting the call in the middle of the night and waiting 19 hours before she and her husband Dennis, and their son, Logan, could leave Saudi Arabia for Wyoming. Another 25 hours was spent traveling. “The entire time we were traveling,” said Shepard, “all I could think about was Matthew all alone, tied to a fence on the prairie.” When they did arrive, Shepard said she could not believe it was her son at first, covered in bandages and stuffed with tubes to keep him alive. In the last moments of MatthewÕs life, Shepard said she and family “were all around him, all touching him, trying to hold onto him.”
When he died, the Shepard family was relieved to see him no longer suffering, but they knew their suffering was just beginning. “All our hopes and dreams for him, and his hopes and dreams were lost for $20 and reasons unknown to all but those boys who took his life.”
With the money sent by friends, family, and those who sympathized with Matthew’s story the Shepards started the Matthew Shepard Foundation. The organization creates educational materials including “Out in the Cold,” a documentary on homeless gay youth, as well as a program promoting respect for K-12 schools.
Shepard remarked that in Wyoming there are laws to protect “critters” but none to protect people from crimes of hate. In a hate crime, she said, there is only one motivation: hate. A burning cross in a front yard is not just a message to the family inside that particular home; it sends a message to the entire community.
Shepard gave a five-step plan to make the country a better and more equal place.
Step one, register to vote. Step two, become an educated voter: find out what the candidates want to do for you and to you. Step three, actually vote. Step four, be an educated constituent. Make sure the elected official is doing what they said they would. If you are upset, tell them. If you are happy, tell them. Step five, “Y’all hafta come out and be out all day long!” That doesn’t just mean LGBT persons, she said. That means parents, siblings, friends and family need to be supportive and tell their stories and not be silent.
Shepard finished with a Native American folktale about a young boy talking to his grandfather about right versus wrong. His grandfather said there was a battle inside every person fought by two wolves. One was evil, filled with anger, envy, greed, guilt, lies, and ego. The other was good, filled with joy, peace, love, hope, and kindness. The young boy asked which wolf won the fight. The grandfather answered, “The one you feed.”