The world stood still in 1998 when news broke of the heinous hate crime committed by Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney that took the life of 21 year old gay student Matthew Shepard. Matthew was robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence and left to die in the freezing cold in a open pasture in Laramie, Wyoming.
I remember this vividly as if it happened yesterday. I was preparing to leave Alabama for college in New York City and I couldn't help but be affected by this horrible tragedy. It was the first time that I can remember crying over the death of someone I never knew, this would happen again with the death of Michael Sandy.
In retrospect I guess I realized that Matthew Shepard and Michael Sandy's fate could have easily be mine or yours if homophobia continues to go unchallenged and hate crimes legislation doesn't become law.
Meeting Judy Shepard on a flight from Atlanta to D.C. yesterday brought back all of those feelings. She may be small in stature, but Judy Shepard is big on courage.
She has refused to let Matthew's death be in vain. She has worked vigorously with The Human Rights Campaign to make sure that laws are put in place to protect LGBT people from ever having to face a horrible ending like Matthew's.
On March 20, 2007, the Matthew Shepard Act (HR 1592) was introduced as federal bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Congress with Judy and her husband Dennis present to witness this historic legislation. The bill passed the House of Representatives on May 3, 2007.
It was an honor to shake her hand and to tell her how much her work means to the lives of LGBT people all over this country. I'm sure Matthew is looking down from heaven smiling.