Mother of hate-crime victim speaking tonight

Students who wanted to see Judy Shepard speak last semester will have their chance at 7 tonight in the Special Events Center.

Shepard will present “The Legacy of Matthew Shepard” as part of the University Lecture Series. Her previous appearance was canceled in October, but the ULS was able to reschedule.

Shepard has been speaking out to the public about acceptance and equality since her son Matthew, a gay college student, was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998. Matthew was beaten, tied to a fencepost and left to die.

Vanessa Ruiz, the president of the Pride Alliance, said that Judy Shepard will provide her audience with wisdom that comes from an experience most people will never have to face.

“I feel it’s incredibly important students attend because she has been through the experience where she’s lost a child due to something that’s still happening today, just because her child was gay,” Ruiz said.

Mark Hafen, who works with both the Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association and the Council on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, said that the appearance by Shepard will help promote the environment of tolerance and acceptance that he’d like to see at USF.

“I don’t think we have a big hate crime problem on campus, but it’s not as open a campus as other universities are for gay and lesbian students, faculty and staff,” Hafen said.

Hafen said that USF is improving its climate for gay students by hosting lectures by Shepard and Keith Boykin, who will be giving the lecture “Black and Gay in America” on Monday.

Hafen also cited the Safe Zone program and the Pride Alliance as ways to connect with students and improve the USF community.

“When I was in the golden days, we wouldn’t even dare be open about our sexuality on campus,” Hafen said.

Hafen said that as people in the gay community become more visible, heterosexuals will begin to realize that they share the same goals and are just normal people.

Ruiz said that while things are more open, deeply embedded social constructs inhibit people from truly accepting those with alternative lifestyles. However, she is optimistic about the future.

“Little by little, we’ll do it,” Ruiz said. “It takes a lifetime of work.”

Hafen said when Shepard speaks, people won’t necessarily listen because of the work she’s done to improve the world, but because of what she represents.

“I think students especially would benefit from seeing Mrs. Shepard,” Hafen said. “Here is somebody’s mother, somebody who was intimately impacted by anti-gay violence.”