Meet Judy Shepard: mother, activist and author of The Meaning of Matthew

Judy Shepard, author of The Meaning of Mathew at the LA Books Examiner/Photo by Katy TartakoffJudy Shepard is an activist and co-founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which is dedicated to social justice, diversity awareness and education, and equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Judy is also the mother of Matthew Shepard, victim of the well-known hate-crime murder that took place in Laramie, WY in 1998. 

Synonymous with gay rights, Matthew Shepard’s tragic murder has forever changed the way people view hate crimes in the U.S. At the time of his murder, however, federal hate-crime laws didn’t exist to protect people attacked because of their sexual orientation or gender. But Matthew’s story, which was immortalized in the play “The Laramie Project,” (and a film of the same name) and performed in hundreds of schools and theaters across the country, would help lead to the kind of awareness necessary for the Matthew Shepard Act, a bill to expand federal hate-crimes laws which was signed into law just last year by President Obama. 

The Meaning of Mathew by Judy Shepard at The La Books ExaminerBut what do we really know about Judy Shepard and her son Mathew? What do we really know about their relationship before Matthew’s horrific hate-crime murder would occur? 

In The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed, Judy Shepard reveals for the first time in book form about her loss, sharing memories of Matthew, their life as a typical American family, and the pivotal event in a small college town that changed everything. Believe me, this is not some puff piece either. Shepard digs deeply into a relationship we know little about and, warts and all, shares a powerful and touching story that is a must-read book for June.

You can meet Judy Shepard in person on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 (7 p.m.) at 

Borders Books and Music
100 S. Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 

Frank Mundo, The LA Books Examiner, is scheduled to interview Judy Shepard soon for an upcoming article on the site. Until then, check out this powerful excerpt from Chapter One of the New York Times bestselling book The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed by Judy Shepard, which is now available in paperback:

Read the excerpt at Frank Mundo’s LA Books Examiner

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6 Comments

Filed under Events, Read Chapter One

6 responses to “Meet Judy Shepard: mother, activist and author of The Meaning of Matthew

  1. snowisfun

    Unsure why the 1998 MW Shepard killing happened. Since that time, there are witnesses who say that MW Shepard, AJ McKinney & RA Henderson were acquaintances & why this man was killed only the late MW Shepard, AJ McKinney & RA Henderson truly know. 1 scenario given is that MW Shepard allegedly 1st grabbed AJ McKinney’s groin against his will after which he hit MW Shepard many times over the head with a gun nearly killing him after which he & RA Henderson tied him to a fence & stole his wallet. If AJ McKinney’s story is indeed true (there’s no reliable way to verify or reject his story), then while AJ McKinney still went too far, his reaction is in response to abuse.

    But regardless of why MW Shepard was killed, let me say Franke Mundo that it’s my view that most of the ‘homophobic’ violence is the result of men reacting to crimes which the homosexual 1st committed against them. Eg. homosexual harasses a man in the public restroom or grabs a man’s butt or groin against his will after which the man reacts by beating up or some cases killing the homo.

    The way I see it in those 2 cases, the man beat up or killed the homosexual in reaction to a crime the homosexual committed. In the 1st case it was harassment & in the 2nd case, the homosexual committed a crime ranging from misdemeanor battery (if his his intent was not sexual) to something more serious such as sex abuse or even homosexual rape attempt. The words that people make are ‘propose’, ‘pass’, ‘hit on’ , ‘unwanted touching’ & ‘unwanted advances’ to describe what the homosexsual did but those words are codes or eupehmisms for crimes that the homosexual committed.

    If a homosexual is brazen enough to grab another man’s groin or butt against his will & the man reacts by beating up or killing the homosexual, then don’t see the homosexual as a sympathetic victim because the man reacted either justly or excessively to a crime the homosexual did. Also those cases are unpredictable. If the man doesn’t do enough, the homosexual could commit a more violent crime such as stab the man if he doesn’t get his way. Even if nothing else happens to the man, it’s unpredictable what the homosexual may do in the future to the next man with more violence.

    Also with Gender Dysphoria (GID), I see something wrong with sex changes & those are a sad waste of science. They must cure GID, not surgically maim the man (some cases woman) to make him an artificial woman (artificial man), but they sadly happen because science knows how to do this.

    Getting back to ‘homophobic’ violence, again, given that there are no other witnesses to the 1998 MW Shepard killing, only the 3 people who were there that night know why it happened. That case aside, if a homosexual is going to commit a crime as the 1s described, then the man’s reaction to beating up or killing the homosexual is in response to that & IMO it’s better to have a case where a jury decides if a man’s reaction to beating up or killing a homosexual is just or excessive force vs. the man doesn’t do enough & the homosexual commits a more violent crime.

  2. What you’re referring to, in legal terms, is called gay panic defense. Lawyers have argued that a victim of same-sex sexual assault responds with violence and rage in self defense or as a result of temporary insanity. It’s not, however, a premeditated act. It’s a desperate measure for survival, or temporary loss of control, a victim can use to justify freeing himself(herself) from immediate danger and to escape further violence and attack.

    But two men, driving their alleged attacker out into the middle of nowhere, beating him and tying him to a pole, are no longer in danger of that man. End of story. The two men, if this secanrio actually occurred, which I don’t beleiev it did) should have called the police right then or at least driven back to town and contacted authorities to press charges and let the police or even a jury decide what to do to their attacker.

    Instead they chose, with premeditation, to take justice into their own hands, to further beat the man into a coma and then, becoming attackers themselves, to rob him as well, and then leave him there to die without notifying anyone. This behavior is not protected under any legal defense.

  3. snowisfun

    Thanks Frank E. Mundo for your thoughts. It’s not my belief that the conviction of the 2 men be overturned, though it maybe 2nd Degree rather than 1st. Yes, they went too far. If AJ McKinney had punched MW Shepard once or twice, then it would’ve been enough. Hitting him 18 times with a gun was way too much & thus he is guilty because with self-defend you may only use just force & to continue beating up or killing a man after the danger is over is excess & thus you’re guilty.

    The way I see it is that if true, if MW Shepard did 1st grab AJ McKinney’s groin against his will after which AJ McKinney just went into a rage & killed him, then what the title should be is ‘AJ McKinney kills MW Shepard after MW Shepard allegedly commits battery or possibly sex abuse on him’ vs. the code or euphemized title ‘AJ McKinney & RA Henderson kill MW Shepard after alleged unwanted advances by MW Shepard’ as the press had reported this.

    Did MW Shepard 1st grab AJ McKinney’s groin against his will as was alleged ? The Laramie Police has said that there’s no proof & some have discarded AJ McKinney’s story, but this is a high profile case-it would’ve been bad policy for the Laramie Police to suggest that AJ McKinney’s story is possible because then they would’ve been condemned for ‘homphobia’ & the Laramie Police would distance themselves from this.

    Perhaps the 2 men had added motives such as robbery. AJ McKinney does have a past record for theft, was a drug user & shortly after the MW Shepard case, he got into a fight with 2 men. But how may AJ McKinney’s story be possible? MW Shepard was drinking alcohol with the 2 men shortly before his death. Could MW Shepard have been drunk or his judgment impaired by alcohol that he would do as AJ McKinney alleged? Unsure & we’ll probably never know, but if true, it does make the scenario more possible. All the witness who testified during the trial-the 2 girlfriends, bartender, etc., did not see what happened in the truck. The 2 girlfriends who pleabargained as accessories after the fact most likely were advised by their lawyers to cooperate with the prosecution while testifying with the hope of getting a lighter sentence, but they weren’t there. Certainly the Laramie Police didn’t see because had they, it would’ve been their job to stop the deed.

    The case got high press publicity before the trial began & having been to Laramie Wyoming which is a small city, it would be fair to say that some or perhaps all the jurors saw the press coverage before the opening arguments were made, so the months of publicity worked against AJ McKinney.

    In 2004, there was an allegation made on 20/20 that AJ McKinney’s a homosexual. AJ McKinney says that he is straight to Elizabeth Vargas (who was interviewing him) & it’s odd that we hear this allegation 6 years later. Regardless, if AJ McKinney’s story is true, then it’s irrelevant what his sexuality is.

    This will get me controversy, but for me, a man who beats up or kills a homosexual who grabs his groin against his will is the same as a man who beats up or kills a would be mugger, because the dead homosexual won’t be able to commit his crime again & he won’t be able to do something more violent to the next man. It’s human nature. If a homosexual thinks he can get away with grabbing another man’s groin against his will, he may then think that he can get away with more violent crimes. If a jury decides as you’ve asid that a man’s reaction to beating up or killing a homosexual was excessive & he is convicted of 1st, 2nd Degree or Manslaughter, then so be it, but I would rather have this than to have the homosexual commit the same deed or worse to some1 else. Finally people may call this ‘panic defense’ but the way I see it, it’s reacting to abuse crime which the homosexual did. Those are my thoughts.

  4. Thanks for your comments. I don’t think anyone will see your view as controversial — you have every right to your opinion. After all, sexual assualt is always wrong, whether it involves a man, woman, or child — gay, straight or otherwise. How we respond to these attacks is up to the courts to decide.

    I would say, though, that if any attack or response to an attck is fueled by a specific hatred of a person’s race, gender or orientation, then hate crime punishment is an important consideration in any litigation.

    Thanks again for you thoughts, and I appreciate your time. This is an important topic and it’s always good to hear and share different views.

    • snowisfun

      Frank Mundo, this is my final comment surrounding the late Matthew (MW) Shepard & hope you can reply. Perhaps you didn’t know this, but here is something about the late Matthew Shepard which many don’t know & which I guess the Laramie Project doesn’t mention.

      2 months before his death, the late MW Shepard who was perhaps drunk or high harassed a bartender in Cody Wyoming. Matthew Shepard 1st proposed & the bartender said no. This should’ve ended it but Matthew Shepard then allegedly started touching the bartender against his will after which the bartender decked him, temporaily knocking him unconscious. The bartender was nice enough to take Matthew Shepard back to the Holiday Inn where he was staying so that MW Shepard could sober up.

      Anyhow, Matthew Shepard went on to accuse the Cody bartender of homosexuality & homosexual rape. The hospital conducted medical tests which came up negative as no sex had happened. The Cody police department interviewed the bartender & after concluding the bartender was credible (witnesses backed the bartender’s story) no charge was filed. Even if you distrust AJ McKinney’s story, the fact is that Matthew Shepard should’ve been in jail for abuse&battery along with falsely reporting a crime.

      The bartender did testify @ the 1999 murder trial as a defense witness. The prosecution didn’t cross examine him because he was credible. The defense wasn’t allowed to bring up the fact that Matthew Shepard falsely accused the bartender of rape. Anyhow should’ve been in jail not Laramie that day & there was enough evidence to convict Matthew Shepard. Matthew Shepard was a drunkard, junky & he was moody. Matthew Shepard just isn’t a sympathetic victim as the Cody bartender was credible.

  5. snowisfun

    Something new by me with regard to the late Matthew Wayne (MW) Shepard. As I understand when MW Shepard was in his late teens, he was homosexually raped. Did this cause him to turn out homosexual? It’s possible. They’ve found that if a boy is a victim of homosexual rape or homolestation, the possibility is more that he’ll engage in homosexual activities in adulthood vs. if he wasn’t. If Matthew Wayne (MW) Shepard had not been homosexually abused, then he may have turned out straight.

    I’ve never heard straights blame childhood sex abuse for why they turned out straight & married with kids. Yet I’ve heard homosexual men & lesbians sometimes blame childhood sex abuse for messing their sexuality & causing the to engage in homo&lesbian activities in adulthood. Sometimes homosexuality is the result of something bad such as childhood sex abuse. 33% of homosexual men have reported being homosexually raped in youth. Psychologists can repeat mantra that ‘homosexuality is not a disease’ but the fact is that for some homosexual activities are the result of bad things such as childhood sex abuse. Unsure if sex abuse is the reason MW Shepard turned out homo, but sex abuse does mess the mind & cause some people to act in ways they wouldn’t have had they not been sexually abused. Now there maybe other reasons such as biology be it hormones or genes. But even straight sexual behaviors aren’t entirely biological & some is learned. It can be said for some people, being homosexually raped in youth can cause them to engage in homosexual activities in adulthood vs. if they had not been.

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