Judy Shepard, mother of the late Matthew Shepard, will lecture at the University of Alabama at Birmingham at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 20, in UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, 1200 10th Ave. South. She will discuss her work as an anti-hate crimes activist.
The event, presented by the UAB Lecture Series, is free and open to the public. Call 205-934-8225 for more information.
Judy Shepard’s life changed on Oct. 8, 1998, when her eldest son was brutally attacked because he was gay. On Oct. 12, Matthew Shepard died. While the Shepard family privately mourned, the tragedy spurred a spontaneous, unprecedented public outcry. Millions of people were galvanized by the attack, which focused the nation’s attention on the growing epidemic of hate crimes. Vigils were held across America. The Shepard family received thousands of letters and emails of support.
In the aftermath of his death, Judy Shepard and her husband, Dennis, started the Matthew Shepard Foundation to help carry on Matthew Shepard’s legacy by embracing the just causes their son had championed. This included working for gay and lesbian equality, and helping to prevent hate crimes. A play, and subsequent critically acclaimed HBO movie, “The Laramie Project,” was written about Matthew Shepard and is performed each year at universities and theaters across the nation to draw attention to gay rights and the ending of hate crimes.
On May 11, 1999, Judy Shepard testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. She delivered a powerful message to those who oppose hate crimes laws: “I can assure opponents of this legislation firsthand, it was not words or thoughts, but violent actions that killed my son.”
Judy Shepard has appeared in two Human Rights Campaign public service television spots, produced by the foundation, to curb anti-gay violence and promote a greater understanding of gay issues. She is actively involved with the advocacy organization Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and has appealed to school administrators to make schools safer for gay students. She now speaks to audiences nationwide about what they can do to make their communities safer for everyone, according to her biography.
Judy Shepard’s visit will come on the heels of UAB’s celebration of Out Week. The week will culminate with a free screening of the film “The Laramie Project” at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17, in Heritage Hall, Room 102. Celebrate the life of Matthew Shepard in film, then participate in a discussion after the screening. For more information on the screening, call the UAB Office of Student Multicultural and Diversity Programs at 205-934-8225 or visit www.uab.edu/diversity.