Seattle – It is hard to believe that October 12th will be the 20th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. It all started on the night of October 6th, 1998, when Matthew Shepard was lured to an open field and was tied up to a fence and tortured for days. Not since the days of the AIDS crisis, both the LGBTQ and straight community came together to help put hate crime legislation into law. Yes, Matthew was known as being the face of combating hate crimes.

I first met Judy Shepard in the fall of 2001 during her visit to Seattle to appear as a keynote speaker at the screening of a documentary called Journey to a Hate Free Millennium at the old Opera House. When I had a chance to actually interview this amazing woman (and meeting her incredible husband) at the National Conference of LGBTQ Journalists on September 8th in Palm Springs, California, I seized the opportunity. Earlier in the day, the Shepards spoke to a jam-packed room of over 200 journalists and when it was all over the audience got up and gave them a standing ovation that lasted for over 10 minutes. This was an amazing opportunity to reflect on the past 20 years.

In response to a question about what they have you both learned the most in the past 20 years, Dennis Shepard said, “I learned that people can regress rather quickly when they have the encouragement to do so. The steps for American tours, complete social equality and justice in the last two years is we’ve returned to the era of the caveman. And it’s going to be very difficult to pull up Pandora’s Box and start cleaning up the mess.” Speaking about how to respond to Trump, Judy Shepard said, “Write letters, call your congressman, join the parades, protest, talk, talk, talk.” Dennis added, “Run for office. Judy agreed. As for Matthew’s dreams, his mother said, His dream was to be part of the Foreign Service. He was always rooting for the underdog. And when we moved to Saudi he saw what actually happens when the government sends aid to countries, but the aid never gets to the people who live there. It only lines the pockets of those in power. And it was infuriating to him. So that was, at that age, that was his dream, was to do something along those lines. Regarding the need for unity within the LGBTQ communities, Dennis said that there must be “Respect within the community before we worry about that, because you can’t have, if you don’t have respect for others within your community, the trans community versus the black lesbian versus the white gay man, how are you going to have unity against, become the face of unity, against those who are trying to take your privileges and rights away.” For information on the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, visit their website at Matthewshepard.org. For the full interview go to the link that follows. (Seattle Gay News – MK Scott at Sgn.org/sgnnews46_38/page2.cfm)

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