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Judy Shepard: The Meaning of Matthew

Judy Shepard: The Meaning of Matthew

My Son's Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed. USA 2010, 273 pp., brochure, € 17.95
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Penguin USA
He may have become an ordinary gay guy coming from a decent background and living a normal gay midtown life. Nobody – but friends or family – would know him today. His family could have been the typical Midwest family. But things turned out differently. One unfortunate night from October 6 to October 7, 1998, 21-year-old student Matthew Shepard met two young men at a local bar at Laramie, Wyoming. They offered him a ride in their car. He accepted. And after he had told them that he was gay they turned on him, robbed him, tortured him, and tied him with shoelaces to a fence in a remote, rural area. There he was left – severely injured, bleeding – for another 18 hours. He fell in a coma during that time and was found by two other men passing by who mistook him for a scarecrow at first. Nothing could save him. He died October 12, 1998 at a Fort Collins hospital, due to his lethal injuries. At this time, when the dimension of this hate crime became known to the world, everything seemed to change. Media all over the world reported about the incident. Celebrities like Madonna or Barbra Streisand took up a stance and protested. Right-wing politicians and religious fundamentalists claimed that Matthew had deserved this brutal destiny because he was gay. Candlelit vigils and memorial services for Matthew were held all over the world. He became a martyr of the gay rights cause. There was »The Laramie Project« - a documentary film set in and around Laramie in the aftermath of the murder. It dealt with the impact the incident had on the small community that was now dubbed the »hate capital of America«. A book, »Losing Matt Shepard«, on the life and politics in the aftermath of an anti-gay-murder was also released. But now it’s time for Matt’s mother to share the story behind the headlines in this candid memoir. Judy Shepard may be the person to suffer most from the loss of her son. His whole life, Matt Shepard, was just Judy Shepard’s eldest son. He was – as his father described him – »an optimistic and accepting young man who had a special gift of relating to almost everyone. He was the type of person who was very approachable and always looked to new challenges. Matthew had a great passion for equality and always stood up for the acceptance of people‘s differences«. He also suffered from depression and panic attacks, according to his mother. Anyway, he would have become the kind of son Judy couldn’t have wished for any better. But it wasn’t meant to be. On October 12, 1998, all this good prospects ended abruptly with Matt’s death. For Judy Shepard – no wonder – these were the toughest times of her life. And it was hard for her whole family with the challenges of confronting Matt’s death. This was even more so because they all had to handle the crippling loss of a central family member in the public eye. They also had to help prosecutors to bring Matt’s murderers to justice. All of this took a while. But by the horrifying event of homophobia that had shuttered Judy Shepard’s family, life and future she was changed forever – from an average mom to an international gay rights activist. To her, it seemed to honor Matt’s legacy best by turning this devastating tragedy into a vital message for the world: hate crimes – as the most brutal outpour of homophobia – need to be put an end to – forever. 11 years after Matt’s death, in late 2009, the US implemented the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act which is meant to aggravate punishments for hate crimes based on homophobia. It won’t mean that hate crimes won’t happen from now on but it certainly makes clear that homophobia won’t be tolerated anymore. Matthew Shepard’s life may be lost forever but, at least, his early death wasn‘t in vain. (Jürgen empfiehlt, Herbst Katalog 2010)
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