Sharing her message with the HWS community, gay rights advocate Judy Shepard will give a talk titled “The Legacy of Matthew Shepard” at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 25 in the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center.
In 1998, after losing her son, Matthew Shepard, to murder motivated by anti-gay hate, Shepard set out on an enduring course to prevent her son’s fate from happening to others. Determined to use her grief to make a difference, Shepard travels the country offering her message about what people can do to make the world more accepting for all.
Through her efforts, which have included national television appearances, work with rights organizations, and testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Shepard endeavors for gay and lesbian equality, hate crime legislation and raising awareness using programs developed by the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
“I feel Matthew with me every day, or I would not be able to do this,” Shepard says. “We just hope we’re doing what he would want us to do. We realize that we must use the voice his death has given us. I realize that what I can try and accomplish is to make people aware. We get so complacent in our lives that we forget not everyone is safe, and frequently, it is our children who aren’t safe.”
Continuing her course of advocacy at the Colleges, Shepard’s on-campus speaking engagement is part of the inaugural Calvin R. Carver, Sr. Lecture series which is made possible by the Calvin R. Carver Sr. Lecture and Student Support Endowment established by Calvin “Chip” Carver ’81 and Anne DeLaney in honor of Carver’s father. In addition, Shepard’s talk also is part of the President’s Forum Series, which brings noted public figures and scholars to campus for lectures across various spheres of interest.
In light of Shepard’s record of advocacy, Vice President for Student Affairs Robert Flowers says she is an exemplary individual to welcome for the inaugural Calvin R. Carver Sr. Lecture.
“Hobart and William Smith Colleges are remarkably fortunate to have the level of support from the Carver family that allows us to provide this opportunity to our students,” says Flowers. “Judy Shepard’s message is one of compassion and care begotten from the unthinkable tragedy of losing her son, Matthew. Judy’s challenge for all persons to ‘tell your stories’ will serve our community well as we strive toward inclusive excellence.”
Launched in spring 2012, the Calvin R. Carver Sr. Lecture and Student Support Endowment was founded with two primary objectives. First, the endowment supports bringing to campus each year one speaker who addresses a topic intended to promote inclusiveness, resiliency, positive mental health and social justice. Secondly, the fund assists students who may be experiencing mental or physical health difficulties stemming from developmental, personal or family circumstances.
About Judy Shepard:
On October 8, 1998, Judy and Dennis Shepard were awakened in the middle of the night in Saudi Arabia, where Dennis works, by a telephone call no parent should ever have to receive. What they heard changed their lives forever. Their eldest son, Matthew, was in a coma after having been brutally attacked-because he was gay. The distraught parents flew to Ft. Collins, Colo., and met-up with their youngest son, Logan, to visit Matthew in the hospital. On Oct. 12, Matthew passed away.
While the Shepard family mourned in private, the tragedy quickly spurred a spontaneous, unprecedented public outcry from coast to coast. The incident galvanized millions of people and focused the nation’s attention on the growing epidemic of hate crimes. Vigils were held across America, and the Shepard family received tens of thousands of letters and e-mails of support.
Matthew Shepard may have been small in stature, but he had a big heart. Fighting for social justice was central to who he was, and it formed a significant part of his life.
In the aftermath of his death, Judy and Dennis started the Matthew Shepard Foundation (www.matthewshepard.org) to help carry on Matthew’s legacy by embracing the just causes their son had championed. This includes working for gay and lesbian equality, and helping to prevent hate crimes.
On May 11, 1999, Shepard testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. In front of the committee, she delivered a powerful message to those who oppose hate crimes laws: “I can assure opponents of this legislation firsthand, it was not words or thoughts, but violent actions that killed my son.”
Judy Shepard has appeared in two Human Rights Campaign public service television spots aimed at curbing anti-gay violence and promoting a greater understanding of gay issues. Produced by the Matthew Shepard Foundation, they were distributed during the autumn of 1999 to every network affiliate and cable operator in the U.S. who uses public service announcements. In one of the ads, there is a home video of Matthew on-screen as Shepard says: “In a perfect world, because your child is gay, you don’t worry about their safety. You just worry about them being happy. I loved Matt just the way he was. Just the way he was.”
In September 1999, she agreed to appear in another television public service announcement (PSA) campaign decrying hate crimes. Sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, the PSA began airing on MTV in October 1999. She has also become actively involved with Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and she wrote an open letter to school administrators that the organization included in a mailing to high school counselors around the U.S. In the letter, she encourages the school officials to make schools safer for gay students by promoting tolerance, and reprimanding students who harass gay students.