Matthew Shepard was neither the first nor the last to die in a brutal gay bashing, yet his death, in particular, touched hearts around the world. Perhaps it was his age, 21 at the time, or perhaps it was the sheer brutality of his murder — Matt’s death was far bloodier than others. The sight of his comatose body, tied to a fence in a Laramie, Wyoming field, jolted people.
Even before Matthew left this mortal coil several days later, his fate had attracted worldwide attention— then President Bill Clinton personally called Dennis and Judy Shepard to express his support and condolences. “Who do they think we are, Elton John?” was Judy Shepard’s initial reaction to the press onslaught.
Judy, Matt’s mom, has since gone on to embrace the media. She is now one of the LGBT community’s staunchest allies and is dedicating her life to educating as many people as possible about homophobia and the need to come together.
“We need to be a united front,” she stressed to Q-Notes in a recent phone interview. “We can’t be different people fighting for different things.”
These days, Judy Shepard lives much of her life on the road, speaking to whomever will listen. Her grace and quiet dignity have moved many people and many do indeed stop and pay attention when she speaks. Now, a little more than a decade since Matt died, Judy shares the whole story from start to finish. She offers a stunning, just published memoir that will stand as a lasting tribute to Matt’s memory.
Staring at the book jacket, one can’t help but be moved by the angelic face staring back from the front cover. Matthew Shepard’s youth and good looks serve to underscore the tragedy of his sad end.
Those who know Matt solely as a victim of anti-gay violence will be stunned by the book’s first 100 pages, in which Judy shares the story of everything that happened to Matt before that fateful night in Laramie.
Nary a reader will hold back a tear as they read of Matt’s ongoing battles with clinical depression and of the horrible rape he survived three years before his passing.
“I wanted people to meet Matt,” Judy Shepard said quietly. “I had to go back to those memories. It was hard, but we knew we had to do it.”
The book shows a depth and maturity that’s rare among first time authors. She now admits that her earliest perceptions of LGBT people were based on stereotypes. She cites Matt’s dressing up as Dolly Parton for Halloween as an early clue. She has since gone to great pains to educate herself and others about the truth.
Shepard has very strong beliefs as to where the church belongs in society. “The church has no place saying that someone ‘shouldn’t’ be,” she says firmly. “Whatever your higher power happens to be, your love for your fellow man is the most important thing.”
She doesn’t blame the parents of her son’s killers for Matt’s death.
It’s society as a whole that needs to accept responsibility for what happens, she feels. “We need to teach love instead of hate.”
Shepard’s “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie and a World Transformed” (Hudson Street Pres) is now available at White Rabbit Books and online retailers. For more information, visit MatthewShepard.org and MatthewsPlace.com. w
— David Alex Nahmod lives in San Francisco. Visit him at www.DavidsOpenForum.Blogspot.com.