SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Judy Shepard gained national notoriety in a way no parent would envy. Her son, Matthew Shepard, was brutally attacked, fell into a coma and later died on Oct. 12, 1998, after he was singled out because he was gay. At 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, Judy Shepard will visit Wittenberg University to talk about her son and the hate crime that took his life.
Her presentation, “The Legacy of Matthew Shepard,” is free, but a ticket must be obtained in advance at the mailroom in the Benham-Pence Student Center. Because of space availability, tickets will be offered Tuesday, Jan. 27 through Monday, Feb. 2 to anyone with a Wittenberg University ID. Tickets for the general public become available Tuesday, Feb. 3 through the day of the presentation. Judy Shepard will speak in the Benham-Pence Student Center Dining Room (CDR).
One of this generation’s most publicized hate crimes changed the Shepard family forever, and they are determined to turn their grief into good by making sure other families do not suffer from similar intolerance. Matthew Shepard’s fight for social justice was central to who he was, and it formed a significant part of his life. To honor his memory, Judy and Dennis Shepard started the Matthew Shepard Foundation, www.matthewshepard.org, to continue Matthew’s legacy by embracing the causes their son had championed. This includes working for gay and lesbian equality and finding ways to prevent hate crimes.
Judy Shepard speaks to audiences nationwide about what they can do to make their schools and communities safer for everyone, regardless of race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. The Shepard family has received tens of thousands of letters and e-mails of support.
“I feel Matthew with me every day, or I would not be able to do this,” she has told audiences. The Shepard family hopes they’re doing what Matthew would want them to do by sharing his story and message of equality.
“We get so complacent in our lives that we forget not everyone is safe, and frequently, it is our children who are not safe,” she said
In May 1999, Judy Shepard testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. She gave a powerful message: “I can assure opponents of this legislation firsthand, it was not words or thoughts, but violent actions that killed my son.”
She has appeared in several Human Rights Campaign public service announcements aimed at curbing anti-gay violence and promoting a greater understanding of gay issues.
Nicole Kogan, of Westfield, Ind., Wittenberg Class of 2005, will introduce Judy Shepard before her lecture. “I think bringing speakers like Judy Shepherd to Wittenberg University shows the Springfield community and many others that we are a liberal institution that not only educates its students on reading, writing and arithmetic, but also on social concerns that affect the students,” said Kogan.
Judy Shepard’s Wittenberg presentation has been made possible by generous support from the offices of Student Development and Residential Life, Multicultural Student Programs, Student Senate, Build a Better Wittenberg, Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, Union Board and the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).
In October 2003, Wittenberg’s department of theatre and dance presented “The Laramie Project,” a fast-paced, thought-provoking and moving play based on research and interviews conducted in Laramie, Wyo., following Matthew’s murder. The play examined how our culture unconsciously teaches hate and challenged its audience to eliminate hate crimes through education.
“I think Mrs. Shepard’s visit will help raise awareness of the issues involving discrimination and diversity and influence people to think about the bigger picture of coming together by accepting that we are all human and all strive for the same things,” said Kyle
Caution ‘04, of Columbus, Ohio. “I think her presence here will be a valuable experience for the community because we can examine what conflicts people face throughout society and how we can work together to fulfill an ideal of unity.”
For ticket information call (937) 327-7443.
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