Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a horrendous anti-gay hate crime in October 1998, spoke Tuesday evening to a group of hundreds of students and community members from across the state at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Her main message of the night: “Tell your stories and just be who you are.” Mrs. Shepard proclaimed that a “Catch-22” certainly exists. The only way things will change for the LGBT community is if people start to tell their stories. Many LGBT people, however, are afraid to “come out” with their stories due to the discrimination and prejudice which still exists. She said that despite the fear, we all must be willing to take the giant leap of faith trusting that we are on the right side and the right will win.
She challenged the audience, asking, “What has happened to our world?” She spoke to her upbringing and how she was taught the “Golden Rule.” She spoke of the dreams her and people her age had during the 1960s. She pondered as to what happened to those dreams. Why are we ignoring all of these issues today?
Mrs. Shepard said that we live in a S.I.C. world – a world of “silence, indifference and complacency.” She said that people are too silent and that people are not sharing their stories or speaking out on behalf of others. She said that many people have become indifferent and do not get involved in “things which don’t directly affect them.” She said that we have all become complacent, assuming someone else will carry the torch and march forward for equality. Ending silence, indifference and complacency is the way to change.
Of course, Mrs. Shepard spoke of her own personal story. She spoke not only of her eldest son’s horrific death and the issues surrounding it, but also on the personal journey she made as a parent and a mother to an openly gay child. She related to the audience how Matthew first came out to her (in the middle of the night, via telephone, as he was in the U.S. and she was with her husband in Saudi Arabia). She noted, an interesting fact, that Matthew attended one year of college in North Carolina – at Salisbury’s Catawba College – before he went to Laramie and the University of Wyoming.
Mrs. Shepard’s story is a strong one… an emotional one… one I’m glad I heard. If ever you get the chance to hear Mrs. Shepard speak… DO IT! She doesn’t sound like a professional speaker or a politician, but rather a parent – a loving, accepting, gracious parent. Her message is one our entire world needs to hear. I wish the entire world could hear it and, if they did, I wish they’d heed the lessons.