20 Years After Matthew Shepard Was Killed, His Parents Have a Lot to Say About Acceptance

By Staff | November 29, 2018 | Rally Health

Matthew shepard

Equal rights, not gay rights. Acceptance, not tolerance. And corporate America really needs to step up. When Judy and Dennis Shepard paid a visit to Rally’s San Francisco office recently, they were perfectly clear about how far things have come since their son Matthew was attacked and left for dead in Laramie, WY, 20 years ago because he was openly gay, and how far there is to go. As founders of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which focuses on standing up for the LGBTQIA+ community, they have a unique perspective.

“There’s no such thing as gay rights,” said Dennis. “Just get rid of that term. We’re talking about equal rights. Tolerance? That’s Judy having a bad hair day. She tolerates it but she doesn’t accept it. What we want is acceptance and respect for being different. Get used to it. Enjoy it!”

While we’re at it, said Dennis, let’s stop talking about “choice” or “lifestyle” when it comes to being gay.

“Being LGBTQ is not a choice,” said Dennis. “It’s no more a choice than the color of your eyes or your height. It’s not a lifestyle. A lifestyle is Michigan in summer, Florida in the winter. You have a choice in that; you don’t have a choice in who you are.”

The Shepards spoke just days after what would have been Matthew’s 42nd birthday. Only a few weeks earlier, his remains were interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. His parents had held off on a final resting place all this time in part because they worried about vandalism, according to NPR.

Progress has definitely been made, Judy said, whether it’s in their home state of Wyoming, where the openly gay legislator Cathy Connolly serves as the House minority floor leader, or the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into federal law in 2009.

But the Hate Crimes Prevention Act doesn’t require reporting, said Judy, and that’s a problem, particularly with hate crimes on the rise.

“You need to count these crimes,” said Judy. “You need to educate the police on how to recognize and report them.”

The Shepards’ talk was also broadcast to Rally offices in Chicago, Denver, Minnesota, Las Vegas, and Washington, DC. They toured the San Francisco office ahead of their appearance, and clearly liked what they saw, from Rally’s work ethic to our employee diversity.

“I love what you have here. I think it’s fantastic,” said Judy, before getting right down to business, starting with encouraging companies to think about the diversity of their suppliers as well as their workforce. Equal pay is critical, so women have an incentive to stay in the workforce. And it’s important to keep talking about diversity.

“Be the example that you want others to be around you,” she said. “Talk about your gay friends, your gay family members. Not by saying, ‘Bruce my gay friend,’ but ‘Bruce, my friend.’ I’m not asking you to wear a rainbow hat, but to educate yourself on the issues and be aware of them.”

She and Dennis both think companies have a bigger role to play, particularly when it comes to protection against job discrimination.

“They have to take the lead and say, ‘We demand that you put into effect a (protection) law,’” said Dennis. “‘Why would we come to your city or state if we can’t protect our employees?’ People go where they are safe, accepted, and can blend in.”


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