Twenty years ago, Matthew Shepard, a young college student, was tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming, savagely beaten and left for dead simply because he was gay. It was a case that shocked the nation and became known as one of the most heinous hate crimes ever.
On what would have been Matthew’s 42nd birthday, his mother, Judy Shepard, will be the keynote speaker at a Rotary District 5280 Social Awareness Forum – “Erase Hate, Foster Acceptance.” She will speak about her son and her work with the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on December 1 at Loyola Marymount University, Murphy Recital Hall. Tickets are $30 per person, and only 200 tickets will be sold. Tickets may be purchased at www.Rotary5280.org.
“As Rotarians, we are constantly working to erase hate and foster acceptance throughout the world,” said Rotary District 5280 Governor Joe Vasquez. “Now, more than ever, we are humbled to have Judy Shepard joining us at this Forum to share the unspeakable tragedy of her son’s death and to work with Rotarians from throughout Los Angeles and beyond to promote tolerance and acceptance of all people.”
The timing of the Forum is truly special. On October 26, Matthew was finally laid to rest at Washington National Cathedral. A reflective, music-filled service offered stark contrast to the anti-gay protests that marred his funeral two decades ago. The public remembrance at the filled 4,000-seat cathedral was led by the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal bishop of Washington, and the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay man elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church. After, his ashes were interred at the cathedral’s crypt in a private family ceremony, and some of his personal effects were placed in the Smithsonian Institute.
In October, 1998, Matthew was beaten unconscious by two men he had encountered in a bar in Laramie, Wyoming. After robbing him, the men left 21-year-old Shepard tied to a fence on the outskirts of town. Eighteen hours passed before he was found by passing bicyclists. He died from his injuries five days later without regaining consciousness.
Prosecutors alleged that Shepard was targeted simply because he was gay. The two men charged with his murder were sentenced to life in prison, where they remain.
The Rotary District 5280 Social Awareness Forum will not only feature Judy’s keynote address, but also discussion groups that will develop workable actions that individuals, Rotary Clubs and other groups can put into place to reduce indices of hate and encourage “acts of kindness.”