Silence is what killed Matthew Shepard.
Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson may have been the ones who tied him to a post and beat him into a coma, but Judy Shepard (Matthew’s mother) said society’s silence was the biggest perpetrator.
That’s why she spoke at Whitworth University Thursday night and encouraged Spokane’s gay community, and allies of the gay community, to tell their stories.
Since her son was murdered in 1998, Shepard has become an advocate for gay rights. Her family created The Matthew Shepard Foundation, then in 2009 she wrote “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed.” And for more than a decade she’s been traveling the country, fighting for equality.
More than 500 people attended Shepard’s presentation, though the auditorium became still as she read aloud her victim impact statement – the same one she read to the court 13 years ago. She read about the late night phone call she got the night it happened, about how Matthew’s blue eye (the other one was swollen shut) and braces were practically all that she could recognize of him when she got to the hospital, how she had to watch her younger son say goodbye to his big brother.
“Matthew is not here because two men learned that it was OK to hate,” she said. “We have to tell our stories. If not, know one will know how to help us.”
Bullies breed hate. The ones who pick on someone because of their race or sexuality. But, Shepard said, the bystanders who quietly turn the other way are just as guilty.
She said one day same-sex marriages will be allowed in all 50 states. One day, all across the United States, you won’t be able to be fired for your sexuality. One day there will be basic civil rights for all people. But only, she said, if people educate one another by openly talking about their partners, or their gay child, or their coming-out process.
“This is not a new phenomenon,” she said about the gay community, “We’ve always been here and we’ll always be here. We’re your police chief, your butcher, your pastor…”
“Pay attention and take a stand for kindness and respect, that’s all I’m asking you to do,” she said, noting that standing up for your fellow human being is the most powerful way to fight ignorance.
More information on Shepard’s efforts can be found at http://www.matthewsplace.com/.