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Judy Shepard Laments Lack of Progress on LGBT Acceptance

By Trudy Ring

Fifteen years after her son Matthew’s brutal murder in Laramie, Wyo,, Judy Shepard has expressed disappointment that the state and nation have not made more progress toward acceptance of LGBT people.

“Matthew’s death gave Wyoming a perfect opportunity to take the first step toward equality,” Shepard told the Los Angeles Times in a wide-ranging interview in her hometown of Casper. “Instead, it has taken two steps back.” The state has no hate-crimes law at all, let alone one covering crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It offers no relationship recognition to same-sex couples. And most LGBT people in the state stay in the closet, she said.

Shepard also discussed the reaction to a recent production of The Laramie Project, a play exploring Laramie’s reaction to Matthew’s murder, at the University of Mississippi; some audience members heckled the actors with antigay slurs.

“It’s disappointing the nation as a whole isn’t embracing the movement to accept people like Matthew,” she told the Times. “We’ve still got a long way to go. That’s why an incident in Mississippi can still happen.”

The article notes that Judy Shepard is “a tireless advocate for gay rights” through the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which she established, and other venues. The Times also interviewed the foundation’s executive director, Jason Marsden, who pointed to the progress represented by the 2009 election of an openly gay state legislator from Laramie, Cathy Connolly. Marsden was dismissive of a new book, The Book of Matt, which claims the murder was not an antigay hate crime but the result of a drug deal gone awry, the Times reports; the article has no statements from Judy Shepard on that subject.

Matthew Shepard died October 12, 1998, six days after he was beaten and left for dead on a fence near Laramie by two men he had met at a bar in the town, where he was attending the University of Wyoming. He was 21 years old.

Read the full Times article here.

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