Shepard urges acceptance

When Judy Shepard made it to her son’s bedside after 20 hours of traveling to Wyoming, she could barely recognize her firstborn. Matthew Shepard was so deformed from the beating he’d received that she had to base her identification on distinct features, such as a bump on his ear.Shepard spoke on Tuesday night about tolerance and understanding in front of more than 100 students, faculty and community members at the Special Events Center.

She covered issues facing the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community and explored ways individuals could combat hate.

USF Pride Alliance President Vanessa Ruiz was on hand to introduce Shepard. Ruiz said she was only 13 when Matthew died, and the mourning of his family and friends touched her.

“At the time, I was out only to myself,” Ruiz said. “I was dealing with the realization that it could have been me, my best friend or somebody else’s child.”

After Ruiz’s introduction, a short video was shown. The video flashed racially charged images and offensive words across the screen to emphasize the message of tolerance.

After the video, Shepard took the stage and said she was no longer just an activist for her son, but an activist for those still facing discrimination.

“It’s been hard for us, losing Matt, but we understand we have lost Matt, and we don’t want this to happen to other families,” Shepard said. “I’m not naïve enough to think it’s not happening right now.”

In a soft Midwestern accent, Shepard recited the Victim’s Impact Statement she had to give in front of a judge and jury during the trial of one of her son’s killers.

After describing Matthew’s life and the social climate of Wyoming, Shepard encouraged citizens to vote and speak out on issues of concern.

“To be a good citizen,” she said, “you have to take part in your community or you will never know what your community is really about.”

She specifically mentioned the lack of marriage rights for GLBT members.

“That’s not fair,” Shepard said. “You pay those taxes, you should be able to take advantage of government benefits.”

Shepard said all Americans should be able to marry those they love, regardless of orientation.

“You can go to Vegas and be married to Elvis and it’s all okay, and it’s not even really Elvis,” Shepard said. “What’s the big deal?”

After the lecture, Ruiz said the message affected her deeply.

“I love that she said hate had to stop and we have to stop tearing each other down and start lifting each other up,” Ruiz said.

Many of the attendees were members of the local GLBT community.

James Geiger, a student at USF, said many of the people who needed to attend the lecture in order to be exposed to the GLBT culture did not attend.

“She was speaking to the choir,” Geiger said. “I wish more non-choir members would have come.”