Lecture takes on the issue of hate speech

by Haley Williamson

Judy Shepard will speak out on behalf of her son, Matthew Shepard, and tell his story as “The Meaning of Matthew” in the Cowles Memorial Auditorium Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

Matthew was 21 years old when he was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in October 1998.

He was a gay student who attended University of Wyoming.

According to an Oct. 13, 1998, New York Times article that was printed after he was pronounced dead, Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, robbed and pistol-whipped, then left tied to a fence for 18 hours on a ranch in Wyoming in near-freezing temperatures.

He was found by a passerby, taken to a hospital, and five days later was pronounced dead at the Poudre Valley Hospital.

After Matthew Shepard’s death, Judy Shepard and her husband, Dennis Shepard, started the Matthew Shepard Foundation. The mission of this organization is, “To encourage respect for human dignity and difference by raising awareness, opening dialogues and promoting positive change.”

As part of this foundation, Judy Shepard travels the country to speak out against anti-LGBT hate crimes, like the one her son suffered.

According to an Oct. 27, 2008, USA Today article there was a 6 percent increase in hate crimes against gays in the short span of a year from 2006 to 2007.

Judy Shepard urges anti-LGBT violence to stop.  Along with speaking all over the country, she has written a New York Times bestselling book, “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed.”

She challenges her listeners and readers to create safe schools and communities for everyone, to look past race, sex, religion or gender identity.

“Differences are emphasized and looked down upon,” said junior Nicholas Dennis, co-president of the Open Conversations: Gay-Straight Association club.

That club does exactly what Judy Shepard speaks of. Its main goal is to provide a place where everyone can feel safe being who they are.

Both Dennis and senior Amanda Blunt, treasurer of the club, are excited that an event like this is coming to campus.

Judy Shepard speaks not only against the physical violence people suffer from, but also the verbal abuse geared toward those who are different.

“It will hopefully bring awareness to the issue that hate speech leads to violent actions,” Dennis said.

Blunt and Dennis said they agree with what Judy Shepard stands for. They said not only is physical violence a large problem, but words of hate can also leave damage.

“Physical violence is not a primary problem on campus, but creating a safe culture is,” Blunt said.  “Saying hateful things eventually leads to a violent culture.”

The whole Open Conversations Club is jumping on board with the excitement as well.

“The club will have a book discussion that is open to the whole campus,” Blunt said.  “We will be passing out around 40 to 50 copies of ‘The Laramie Project’ after the event.”

“The Laramie Project” is a play written by the Tectonic Theatre Company from New York, concerning the incident with Matthew in terms of the people and community of Laramie, Blunt said.  It is based on hundreds of interviews of residents.

Dennis said he believes this will be a great event on campus, and that Judy Shepard will be able to get her point across to everyone.

“Hearing a story from a mother of a victim will bring it home,” Dennis said.

Judy Shepard uses her son’s story to try to help others who may suffer like he did.  She speaks for those who may not be able to speak for themselves.

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