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Judy Shepard to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

The mother of Matthew Shepard, the gay victim of a hate crime in 1998, is among 19 honorees

Christopher Kane | Washington Blade, Courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association

Beloved LGBTQ+ advocate Judy Shepard is among the 19 honorees who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S., the White House announced on Friday. 

The mother of Matthew Shepard, who was killed in 1998 in the country’s most notorious anti-gay hate crime, she co-founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation with her husband Dennis to raise awareness about anti-LGBTQ+ violence. 

The organization runs education, outreach and advocacy programs, many focused on schools. 



In a statement shared via the Human Rights Campaign, Shepard said, “This unexpected honor has been very humbling for me, Dennis, and our family. What makes us proud is knowing our President and our nation share our lifelong commitment to making this world a safer, more loving, more respectful, and more peaceful place for everyone.

“I am grateful to everyone whose love and support for our work through the years has sustained me.

“If I had the power to change one thing, I can only dream of the example that Matt’s life and purpose would have shown, had he lived. This honor reminds the world that his life, and every life, is precious.”

Shepard was instrumental in working with then-President Barack Obama for passage of the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which was led in the House by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who will also be honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom during the ceremony on Friday. 

Also in 2009, Shepard published a memoir, “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed,” and was honored with the Black Tie Dinner Elizabeth Birch Equality Award. 

“Judy Shepard has been a champion for equality and President Biden’s choice to honor her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom is a testament to what she’s done to be a force of good in the world,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in a statement. 

“A mother who turned unspeakable grief over the loss of her son into a decades-long fight against anti-LGBTQ+ hatred and violence, Judy continues to make a lasting impact in the lives of the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.  

“It is because of her advocacy that the first federal hate crimes legislation became law and that countless life-saving trainings, resources and conversations about equality and acceptance are provided each year by the Matthew Shepard Foundation,” Robinson said. “We are honored that Judy is a member of the HRC family and know that her work to create a more inclusive and just world will only continue.”

Other awardees who will be honored by the White House this year are: Actor Michelle Yeoh, entrepreneur and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Jesuit Catholic priest Gregory Boyle, Assistant House Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), former Labor and Education Secretary and former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), journalist and former daytime talk show host Phil Donahue, World War II veteran and civil rights activist Medgar Evers (posthumous), former Vice President Al Gore, civil rights activist and lawyer Clarence B. Jones, former Secretary of State and U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), former U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) (posthumous), Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, educator and activist Opal Lee, astronaut and former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center Ellen Ochoa, astronomer Jane Rigby, United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero, and Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe (posthumous).

The National LGBT Media Association represents 13 legacy publications in major markets across the country with a collective readership of more than 400K in print and more than 1 million + online. Learn more here: nationallgbtmediaassociation.com



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