Judy Sheperd is the mother of Matthew Shepard who was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Since then she has become an advocate for LGBT rights creating the Matthew Shepard Foundation with her husband.
Several events are bringing Judy back to town and we caught up with her to talk about it.
Jerry Nunn: Hello, Judy. We haven’t talked in a while. You have been a little busy.
Judy Shepard: It has been crazy busy.
JN: You are coming back to Chicago with a full schedule.
JS: I am looking forward to it. Keep that weather nice until we get there, okay?
JN: I will do my best! You have an appearance at the Chase Auditorium and then a reception after.
JS: Yes, at The Carlyle.
JN: Elaine Dame, who is singing in a jazz quartet, I have seen perform several times.
JS: Great. I have not. Is she wonderful?
JN: Yes. I saw her perform at coffee houses years ago. On Saturday you are a Center on Halsted.
JS: I have been there before.
JN: Is it a speech that you are doing there?
JS: It is H.E.R. day at the Center. I speak then there is a luncheon. After the luncheon there are several workshops dealing with women’s issues. This is also for anyone describing themselves as women so for transgender also.
JN: The play The Laramie Project- Ten Years Later opens that night.
JS: It is the second half ten years later.
JN: So this is a completely different production.
JS: It is the Redtwist Theatre group. The group went back in 2010 to do research and visited some of the same folks. They re-interviewed some of the same people from the first play to see if anything had changed since Matt was killed. I think initially they were pretty disappointed that things hadn’t changed that much but overall I don’t think it was less or more any different than the rest of the country at that point in time on how far they had come in the recognition of the gay community and their rights. In the last few years things have totally turned a corner.
JN: What part did you play in the show?
JS: I was interviewed this time. That is pretty much it. As with the original production I had no input and no involvement other than being interviewed.
JN: So there is a person playing you onstage this time.
JS: Weird, huh? Well, it was weird for me.
JN: I imagine it would be. Where have you been traveling to?
JS: I couldn’t even tell you. I am gone all the time it seems like. I was at the UN. They are getting ready to do a giant global initiative on homophobia. It is really a big deal for them. I was part of a panel there.
We were participants in getting awards for Chase. It was on TV before Christmas.
It has been really busy in a really good way. I was happy to see that in some places. Attitudes are changing. The poles are showing how much more accepting folks are about the gay community. That is wonderful.
JN: Has it been challenging to raise money in these economic times?
JS: We have survived that. We are doing okay. We have been doing more corporate tasks and sponsorships. We are not huge. We never have been huge. There are only five or six of us at any given time. We are not looking to be a huge organization. We have our own little niche and we fill it very well. I think that is how we are still here. When times are tough we are tight with our money but we are doing okay. We never want to turn down a donation, don’t get me wrong, but we are not in danger of having to close our doors.
JN: Politically how are you seeing things?
JS: On a personal level I am very much an Obama supporter. He has been wonderful for the community. In a follow up term he could do amazing things. One concern I have in the republican campaign is it has revolved into this mess of 1950 attitudes. We could have the most amazing president in office but if he doesn’t get some cooperative work with Congress nothing will get done. The system is the system and yes it is annoying but it works with people compromising. It is not what everyone wants a hundred percent but it certainly seems better than the stalemate we have right now.
JN: We you involved with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?
JS: I wasn’t directly a part of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I spoke on it when asked. I was invited to come to the signing but I couldn’t. I had a conflict. Everyone in country worked very hard on that. It was a life changing moment for everyone. I think it is appalling that folks are still fighting against it. It is done so let’s move on!
JN: How is gay marriage coming along that you have noticed?
JS: I am on the advisory board for the organization that is sponsoring Prop 8’s decision. They have done amazing work. Chad Griffin is doing great work. Mr. Boyd and Mr. Olson the attorneys are keeping the discussion in the forefront. The fact that we have gone in Washington State and making progress in Maryland is important. I am very disappointed that Governor Christie took the stance that he did. Everyone should realize that when you put any civil rights issue to the popular vote it is never going to work. It just doesn’t. If we did that in the 1960’s we would still have segregation.
That was disappointing. I understand he has to keep his little pocket of people happy. He is on the wrong side of history. I think in my lifetime we will actually see a national change like we did in Loving versus Virginia where there will be a federal mandate to recognize marriage equality.
JN: I am from Tennessee and wondered if you get a chance to speak down there with all of the recent controversy.
JS: Oh my. I have spoken to several colleges there and churches as well. If I am invited to an area it is never the area where I am the controversy. I am invited because they are already on the same page as me or I am on the same page as them. It is a reinvigoration of the movement. I don’t get invited to a place where I have the opportunity to change anyone’s mind. It is the yin and the yang of what I do, I guess.
My husband was in Tennessee with the Tennessee hate crime folks. He spoke to members of the state congress and was very critical of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. I can’t believe the things they are doing in Tennessee and Virginia as well. It is beyond the pale how many steps we have taken backward.
JN: That is very common down there to avoid the subject and not talk about things. Well, I always enjoy talking to you. See you in town soon and keep up the important work you are doing.
JS: I will and see you soon.