Judy Shepard mother of gay college student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Laramie, Wyo. and on whom the play and subsequent film The Laramie Project was based on, came to UM Friday to speak about diminishing hatred towards the gay community.
Dozens of students and faculty attended to hear Shepard’s speech at the Glasgow Lecture Hall in the School of Architecture.
The event was sponsored by SpectrUM, a club that provides support and organizes activities for all members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight community. Shepard’s speech marks SpectrUM’s fourth event this year.
Wanting to construct something positive out of the tragedy, Shepard launched the Matthew Shepard Foundation to not only commemorate her son, but prevent future hate crimes through awareness.
“We are who we are,” Shepard said. “We owe each other respect, at the very least.”
With a new president in office, Shepard remains optimistic for social and political changes. Shepard urged students to actively vote in elections and contact legislators to express the need for equal marriage and employment rights.
“We’re in a new millennium, and we can see how far we’ve come,” Aaron Esman, a junior and president of SpectrUM, said. “She did a great job connecting 11 years ago with what is happening today.”
Shepard blamed society and its teachings for sexual orientation prejudices. She shared her term silent, indifferent, and complacent (SIC). They are the characteristics that hinder people from embracing unfamiliar ideas.
“The same issues have faced every minority,” Shepard said.
As Shepard explained that hate is a product of fear and ignorance, she advocated education as a tool to eliminate discrimination and violence towards others.
Audience members grasped the importance of discussing the issue, rather than ignoring the clash of dissimilar views.
“The more we talk about it, the less people will be afraid,” sophomore Jesse Ray said.
Shepard addressed the common opposing argument for homosexuality that God sanctions marriage for a man and a woman. To dispel the religious claim, she noted that the New Testament simply urges readers to “love your fellow man.”
“We need to be disillusioned from the stigma that being gay is bad and separate it from religion,” Alex Suvall, a sophomore and secretary of SpectrUM, said. “Living by the books is very limiting.”
Shepard told a story of how during one of her speeches, a girl suggested that everyone who supported or affiliated themselves with the gay community should paint himself or herself blue on a certain day.
A visualization of the widespread support would convince people to openly come out, as well as look at the matter with a new perspective.
Esman agrees that making a cause personal has the potential to alter views.
“People think something will not affect them, without realizing how everyone is connected,” Esman said.
Students declared that UM’s diverse student population facilitates the acceptance of different sexual orientations.
“UM is pretty good in terms of integrating different types of people and collaborating with clubs,” Andrew Boysen, a senior, said.
In conjunction, sophomore Paige Giusfredi, Vice-President of SpectrUM, announced one of SpectrUM’s goals for the year.
“We’re really trying to make it more all-inclusive,” Giusfredi said. “We have a lot of allies involved.”