Thursday, January 28, 2010

Xpressions Against Oppression: Judy Shepard

Matthew Shepard (1976-1998)

Yesterday evening I went to York University to listen to Judy Shepard (the mother of Matthew Shepard) give a talk.
In October 1998, at the age of 21 Matthew was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming because he was gay.
Matthew was murdered for being gay.
He was murdered because of pure hatred.
Matthew's murder brought world-wide attention to the issue of hate crime legislation.
His murder also instilled much fear into the gay community and caused a lot of people to hide deeper in the closet.
Matthew's story has pierced many hearts and changed many lives.
After his murder, his parents Judy and Dennis co-founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation and became strong advocates for LGBTQ rights.

When I heard that Judy would be coming to York U to speak, nothing was going to stop me from being there.
She started her talk by reading her victim impact statement from the trial.
Tears and emotion overwhelmed the room.
In front of us all was this beautiful human being...this beautiful mother...with all her words and struggles...with all her energy and strength...full of compassion and love.

She told us about Matthew, about his coming-out, about their family, and the pain they have all been through. She also spoke about the Matthew Shepard Foundation, human rights, and America's struggle to catch up.

"Educate, educate, educate...we need to educate one another"

What really hit home was when Judy spoke about the need to educate people in every situation we enter. The need to always be true and honest to not hide and to not be shameful.
This of course made me think of my research. People often ask me what my PhD is all about...I've noticed that when I say "youth homelessness" I get smiles and words of encouragement, but when I say "LGBTQ youth homelessness and the lack of support available" I get silence, maybe a little smile, and when I add "homophobia, transphobia and hate" in there, I get absolutely nothing. Sometimes it's easier to go with the first scenario, but by doing so I'm not being honest and I'm certainly not educating. I believe that no matter how hard the reaction, how ignorant your audience, in being honest every single time with a motive to educate...we will achieve this.

She spoke about making things personal every single time in order to educate people.

"We need to make it personal...the personal gets through to people...
people understand the personal"

Judy also spoke about families and how we are not always born into the family that we belong to, but that there is a family out there for everyone...these words really brought I looked around I could not believe the amount of people crying...the amount of families broken.
Broken families because of an incapacity to understand the human heart.

Throughout the evening I kept thinking that the world should hear her words, her honesty, and compassion. What a difference it might make if people listened to Judy's message.

I am thankful for having heard Judy speak, as I'm sure everyone was; this was evident by the standing ovation she got from the audience both as she entered and exited the stage.

May we never stop this fight for social justice and equality.
May we never lose hope.
May we always be honest and true to who we are...and may hate crimes end.

Thank you Judy for your words...for keeping on...and for fighting this fight.