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Mrs. Shepard Speaks 


THE LIST
Wired Strategies
“Gay Politics: Online & With an Edge”
September 18, 1999 - 4:30PM EST

MATT SHEPARD’S MOM SPEAKS TO GAY JOURNALISTS
Mrs. Shepard talks of her son, her activism, and the Christian right

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - Judy Shepard, mother of slain gay student Matthew Shepard, spoke today at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Mrs. Shepard revealed her thoughts about her son, her growing activism, and about the Christian right in a panel discussion at the conference only minutes ago.

“I don’t want this to ever happen again,” Mrs. Shepard told the nearly 600 journalists assembled, in response to a question as to why she transformed from everyday-mom to anti-hate activist. Her voice beginning to break a bit, she continued: “I’m determined to make whatever difference I can, for Matt.”

Mrs. Shepard explained that she could best sum up her appearance today in a paraphrase from Thoreau: “When a friend dies, you take on the responsibility of their life and their goals,” she told the clearly moved crowd.

Mrs. Shepard was joined on the panel by Justin Gillis of the Washington Post, Chris Connelly of MTV, Jason Marsden of the Casper Star-Tribune (a friend of Matt’s), and Cathy Renna of GLAAD.

While an ardent champion against anti-gay hate today, Mrs. Shepard admitted that initially she had some concerns. “I at first was very reluctant to work with the press,” Shepard said. She feared the media would be like “rats on a feeding frenzy,” but quickly saw that this was not the case.

In fact, Shepard has been surprised not just by the media’s coverage of her son’s death, but by the continuing outpouring of sympathy she receives. “I get mail from all over the world on a daily basis,” Shepard said. “Most of the people I hear from now are straight people,” including parents, but also a lot of grandparents who are “worried about their gay grandchildren. She admitted that “I don’t know what’s compelling them to still write,” but she finds it “encouraging” and “wonderful” that they do.

As to why her son’s death so touched the hearts of gays and straights alike, Mrs. Shepard said that Matt “could have been anybody’s son.” He “looked so innocent…he was everybody’s kid.”

Mrs. Shepard was also asked about how it has felt to have Christian right groups demonize her son – protesting his funeral with signs saying “Matt burns in hell,” and even including a picture on a religious right hate Web site showing Matt aflame in hell (http://216.71.100.163/memorial.html).

“I have seen Matt burning in hell,” Mrs. Shepard said, indicating she had visited the God Hates Fags Web site. But explained that she has very little time or energy to devote to even thinking about such people, and simply responded “I pity them.”

Mrs. Shepard also revealed that she is concerned about some of the misinformation that has persisted about Matt. For example, she revealed that the descriptions of Matt’s ordeal as Christ-like are not exactly accurate. Matt “wasn’t tied to the fence like Christ,” Shepard told the gathering. While he was in fact tied to the fence, he was found slumped on the ground, not standing.

In addition, Mrs. Shepard explained that contrary to some of the praise given her son, Matt was no saint. “I tried very hard to take away that saint-like persona they’ve given him.” Shepard has in previous interviews explained her fears that Matt is being put on too high a pedestal, rather than being treated as a human being who had flaws just like anyone else.

“Matt was not a saint,” Shepard said, “he was a young kid in search of his life.” But, she added, “he was always a saint to me."


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