In a candid interview with Katie Couric on NBC’s “TODAY” show, Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, expressed her disappointment in the current state of affairs for the LGBTQ community. Judy had hoped that the climate for LGBTQ individuals would have improved significantly over the past 25 years, but she noted that it has not lived up to her expectations.
The Shepard family’s tragic story dates back to October 6, 1998, when Matthew, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, fell victim to a brutal hate crime. Two men, pretending to be gay, lured him away from a bar to a remote area, where they savagely beat him, tied him to a fence, and left him for dead. Matthew’s death ignited a national conversation on anti-LGBTQ violence and played a pivotal role in the fight for hate crime legislation.
Recent times have seen a surge in anti-LGBTQ legislation, with over 500 bills introduced by Republican state representatives, 84 of which have become law. Many of these bills aim to restrict transgender student athletes’ participation in sports and limit minors’ access to transition-related medical care. Judy Shepard attributes this hostile climate, in part, to the divisive rhetoric of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
While Judy remains optimistic about the long-term future, she acknowledges the current challenges, including an increase in anti-LGBTQ demonstrations and high-profile cases of fatal violence. She emphasizes the importance of keeping Matthew’s story alive to raise awareness of ongoing discrimination and inspire change.
In 2009, Judy and Dennis Shepard witnessed the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act by President Barack Obama, expanding federal hate crime statutes to include gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability. Matthew’s dream of working for the State Department was rooted in his desire to help others, influenced by his time in Saudi Arabia during his childhood.
Judy and Dennis Shepard continue to share their son’s story, even 25 years later, through the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an LGBTQ rights nonprofit they founded in 1998. Despite the progress made, they feel compelled to persist in their advocacy, particularly in light of the challenges faced by marginalized communities in today’s political landscape.
As time passes, Judy hopes that younger generations will remember Matthew not as a mere statistic, but as a human being who fell victim to anti-gay hate. She aims to impart the message that while differences among people are natural, violence and discrimination should never be tolerated, and that collectively, society must strive for greater acceptance and inclusion.