Judy Shepard ( front, center ) lectured at the Auditorium Theatre. Photo from the reception after the event at Roosevelt with students who are members of our RU Proud organization. At left is James Gandre, dean of Roosevelt's Chicago College of Performing Arts and interim dean of the College of Education; at right is Roosevelt President Chuck Middleton, who will be inducted into Chicago's GLBT Hall of Fame in November. Shepard (left) at the lecture, and Jermaine Robinson at the vigil. Middle: Shepard at the lecture, and Jermaine Robinson at the vigil. Photos by Andrew Davis
By Andrew Davis
Hundreds of individuals listened to Judy Shepard with rapt attention on Oct. 16 at Roosevelt University's Auditorium Theatre as she called for the GLBT community to unite and take action.
In an hour-long speech that mixed the somber and even the comical, the mother of the late hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard weighed in on everything from voting to Brokeback Mountain, which she called the 'least gay movie she's ever seen.' In fact, she started off by saying that because she's 'fiftysomething,' she's been experiencing her own 'personal summer' in case people started to wonder why she might use her fan.
Quickly turning to a more serious tone, she read from her victim impact statement that she read in the courtroom during the sentencing hearing of her son's attackers. 'Matthew was a loving, kind, vibrant young man. You need to see him as we do to understand our loss,' she began. 'He was not a perfect child; he experienced failures and successes. He always looked forward to new challenges and the next step. ... He was always considerate and was always willing to listen. I love and miss him more than I can express in this statement. ... He was my friend and my confidant. I will never understand why anyone would want to hurt Matt [ and ] to show such complete disregard for another human being.' She also read about the fateful call the family received; the flight from Saudi Arabia to the hospital in Colorado; and seeing him in the hospital, 'an emotionless, unaware young man with his head swathed in bandages and tubes everywhere.' Of Matthew's passing, Shepard added that 'while it was a relief that Matthew was no longer suffering, it was also a realization that our suffering was just beginning.'
Shepard also took time to bemoan the lack of voter participation, particularly among the GLBT demographic. 'If you don't care, why should they?,' she asked. 'Your vote counts. Did we learn nothing from the election in 2000? We have a chance to make some major changes in the midterm elections.' She urged attendees to register to vote; learn about candidates and their positions on issues; vote; hold officials accountable ( 'Everything they do affects you' ) ; and tell your stories so that politicians know about your community. She said later that she doesn't understand why people 'just sit there and take' what happens. 'You should be getting up and screaming,' she said.
She also talked about her home state. 'Wyoming is the lowest-populated state, with 450,000 people—about two square miles per person. There is no rush hour. You can see the stars, hear the birds and smell the dirt,' she said. However, mixed with these pleasant aspects were some sobering facts about the lack of diversity. 'We are 96 percent white. If you're a person of color at the University of Wyoming—the only four-year university in the state—you're probably there on an athletic scholarship. People don't really understand diversity because they don't see it. It can be really hard to be gay there.' She did indicate some progress; for example, the newsletter from the state GLBT organization is no longer delivered in an opaque package.
Shepard also urged individuals to be honest with themselves. 'You can't lead a double life and be successful,' she stated. 'You can't cut yourself in half. You're not giving 100 percent to anything if you're not true to yourself. Society tells us that there's something wrong with you if you're gay. There's nothing wrong with being gay—you are what you are.' Discussing when Matthew came out, she asked him 'What took you so long?' She drew laughs when she talked about mothers being surprised about their children coming out: 'I'm thinking, 'Oh no you're not.'' In addition, she admitted to being surprised upon learning that people can be fired throughout most of the United States if they are gay. 'I thought the [ EEOC ] protected everyone. Fired because you're gay? Does that sound like the American dream to you? It doesn't to me.'
In addition, she put her stamp of approval on same-sex marriage, even incorporating a fiscal perspective on the issue. ' [ There are ] a thousand tax benefits you can't take advantage of because you're unmarried. You pay the taxes, but you don't get the benefits. Is that the American dream? No, it certainly isn't. ... Legal change needs to happen.'
'Of course we can make a difference together,' she asserted, while asking people not be what she termed SIC: silent, indifferent and complacent. 'Do I sound angry? Well, I am. I am [ very ] angry. I lost my son to hate that could've been fixed four years ago. Here we are, eight years later, talking about the same issues. We're still fighting hate ... and we let things just happen. We need to be a united front.'
Preceding Shepard's talk was the 3rd Annual Center on Halsted Anti-Violence Project ( COH-AVP ) Vigil, which remembered victims and survivors of LGBT-related hate crimes. AVP Manager Laura Velazquez hosted the event, which took place at Roosevelt University's Spertus Lounge at 430 S. Michigan.
Among those who spoke was Jermaine Robinson, who actually has survived two gay-bashings. 'I come to you tonight with a plea,' said Robinson, who acknowledged that he is out to his entire neighborhood. 'Let's end prejudice and hate, as well as all sorts of ridiculous crimes.'
Stevie Conlon, chair of Illinois Gender Advocates, feels that transsexuals cover a gender continuum that incorporates everyone from cross-dressers to gender-queer people to post-operative individuals. 'I would like to thank the [ GLBT ] community for adding the 'T,'' Conlon said, adding that transsexuals need to be recognized as 'regular' individuals: 'Transsexuals are often shunned by families, friends [ and ] religious organizations. When people don't know about something, like transsexuals, it's easily for them to become objectified. As forbidden objects, transsexuals become ripe for two things: hate crimes and media coverage.'
Other speakers included COH Executive Director Robbin Burr; Chicago Police Department GLBT liaison Marty Ridge; PFLAG en Espanol founder and Amigas Latinas co-chair Aurora Pineda; and performance artist/COH Young Women's Program Coordinator Nikki Patin, who delivered the emotional high point of the evening with a searing poem about the desolation and desperation many GLBT young women face daily.
Lisa Gilmore, an AVP therapist/trainer, led a roll call of names of locally and nationally known people who were victimized by hate crimes. Attendees were free to call out names as well—and they certainly did, with everyone from Kevin Clewer to Gwen Araujo being mentioned.
Velazquez requested attendees to add the names of victims and survivors to a panel that was positioned in the back of the room.