Judy Shepard, Grand Marshal of Pride Parade, on Legacy of Matthew Shepard
Friday, June 25, 2010
New York, NY –
Millions of people are expected on Fifth Avenue and parts of the West Village on Sunday for the 41st annual LGBT March. This year's Grand Marshals include a lieutenant in the U.S. military who was discharged after coming out on television, a Mississippi high school student who fought back when she was told she couldn't take her girlfriend to the prom and Judy Shepard.
In 1998 Shepard's 21-year-old son Matthew, was lured into the countryside in Wyoming, then beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead. The tragedy of his death brought mourning around the country and around the world. But, it help increase and focus attention on the issue of hate crimes and gay rights.
Judy Shephard spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake to talk about recently passed hate crime legislation, the legacy of her son and the Pride Parade.
Matthew was in college in 1998, at the time of his tragic death and it took a decade for federal legislation to be enacted. You were on television standing next to the president when he announced this legislation. Can you talk about your role in lobbying for the Matthew Shepard Act?
It was such an amazing day and the culmination of a lot of work of a lot of people that finally made that happen. But we had, you know, a bit of time span between Clinton and Obama, where it was just really difficult to get anything to move forward for the gay community. So, if you remove that block, we did pretty well and Sen. [Edward] Kennedy was just wonderful, Sen. [Charles] Schumer always a supporter, as was Sen. [Hillary] Clinton. It was an amazing, amazing day.
Do you think that the legislation goes far enough?
Well, I think it does. The hate crime legislation does, but we just have so much more work to do in regard to job protections and, of course, marriage.
In the ten years since, you've written a memoir called "The Meaning of Matthew," and started the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Tell us about that, what kind of work does it do?
I began to feel like nobody really knew Matt, that they had created this icon character called Matthew Shepard who wasn't really that close to being true to Matt. So, there was a lot of misinformation about what happened to Matt and about his family. So I took this opportunity to do this book and sort of set the record straight. And now the truth is out as we knew it. And now people know who Matt was. He was a real, real human being.
And you go around the country speaking to young people with the Matthew Shepard Foundation. What's that like?
I love working with those kids. They are so wonderful and smart and bright and empowered now. Ten years ago when I started speaking to those kids they were afraid and very worried about their future and what the future held for them. But now there's an understanding that they're being denied certain basic rights, and they know how to get them back and they're going to do that.
You tell a story about someone who, because of the work you've done, had an easier time coming out to his parents.
It was a young man who had been very out on campus, but hadn't told his folks yet. So, he drove home one weekend, pulled up in the driveway with his car still running and went inside. His mom was on a cell phone and his dad was in the basement. So, he says to his mom, "I'm gay." And she looks at him and looks downstairs and calls out to her husband, "Bob, I win the bet." I think that story so illustrates how far we've come.
You are the Grand Marshal of this Sunday's Pride March. One of the other Marshals is Constance MacMillan, a high school student who wasn't allowed to attend her prom because her date was another girl. She spoke with WNYC's Brian Lehrer on Thursday and said: "There's been a lot of good things that have come out of this and it made things so much easier but, it's like, I'm never going to get my senior year back, regardless of what I get. So, I guess they won on that one." She has 400,000 friends on Facebook now, and Ellen DeGeneres gave her a $30,000 scholarship. It's truly remarkable, as you said, how far we've come.
Yes it is. And with people like Ellen out there talking about the issues that are so important to everyone, and not just Constance, it's not really just a gay issue either, but it's about bullying in general -- just treating people different for some kind of perception that they are less than anybody else. It's so sad, but things are getting better.
This is your first pride parade here in New York City, what are you looking forward to?
I'm looking forward to the people, I don't do many pride events so this is very exciting for me. I hope it's not too hot, and not raining.