Apr 122005
Authors: Natasha Grunden

Matthew Shepard's mother used humor and a positive attitude to discuss acceptance and education about the homosexual community more than six years after her son's death.

Judy Shepard experienced the loss of her son, Matthew Shepard, who died at Poudre Valley Hospital on October 12, 1998 after being beaten and tied to a fence by two men in Laramie, Wyo. His death was considered a hate crime and caused a wave of activism and awareness about hate throughout the nation.

Shepard informed the Johnson Hall Theatre audience about the importance of standing up for everyone's civil rights, respecting people as human beings and the power of an individual voice.

"We learn hate," Shepard said. She said hate within society and the community does not make a family, society or community any better.

Respecting all families and finding similarities between people were key details of Shepard's speech.

"Respect is what we owe each other," Shepard said, "We are all the same on the inside."

She also said the stereotypical family structure of a man, a woman, children and half a dog is not the definition of a family.

"A family is a collection of people who love and respect each other," Shepard said.

She went on to say that everyone wants to love and be loved.

Shepard opened her speech with a video demonstrating fear and ignorance. The video did not just depict fear and hate of gay people, but also the death of James Byrd Jr., an African-American male who was killed in a hate crime the same year as Matthew Shepard.

With Byrd's and her son's deaths, as well as the Columbine High School shootings on April 20, 1999, the 12-month span encompassing those three events was a tough time. She said all three incidents occurred out of hate.

Even with a serious video sending some audience members into silent tears, Shepard started off her lecture with a little humor.

She informed the audience she had recently become a member of the American Association of Retired Persons. She held up her reading glasses, explaining that they might potentially make an appearance, as well as a paper fan, because she was in her own personal summer.

"Hate is widespread still," Shepard said once the laugher had subsided. She continued with her victim impact statement, which is her account to the court about her losses.

One of Shepard's overarching concerns is civil rights, and not just the rights of homosexuals. In 36 states, a person can still be fired for being gay, Shepard said.

"Laramie is a microcosm of the world," she said. "We have more sheep than people; it's our diversity."

Yet even as a member of a small town in Wyoming, Shepard spoke fervently about what everyone can do to promote acceptance and equality among humans. People voting, becoming informed constituents and letting their representatives know what they want are the political keys to utilize.

"You have tremendous power as one person," Shepard said.

A point that was repeated several times was the importance of talking. She also said ignorance of civil rights issues is what holds people back.

"You are who you are, you love who you love, and that's just the way it is," Shepard said.

Before turning the speech into a question-and-answer session, Shepard prompted the audience to take care of each other regardless of little differences.

Heather Jennings, a sophomore wildlife biology major, had nothing but praise for Shepard's speech.

"I loved it and am so glad I came," she said. "She opened with her victim's statement, but still made you laugh."

Similarly, Randy McCrillis, director of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Services (GLBT), expected positive feedback form this year's keynote speaker for T'BGLAD, which stands for Transgendered, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian Awareness Days.

"She brings a highlight. She can reach a broader base and help raise awareness about GLBT," he said.

The original plan for T'BGLAD was to perform "The Laramie Project" – a play about the aftermath of Matthew Shepard's death, as told by people of Laramie – and have Judy Shepard speak in conjunction with the play.

The play did not end up working out, but Shepard was still able to come to CSU, said Peter Dearth, co-chair for T'BGLAD. He believed Shepard's presence as the keynote would do a lot to inform the community that anti-gay sentiment is still present.

"The helps the community realize issues of diversity are important, important not to forget about the issue," he said.

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