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A Father’s Appeal

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This month, the Senate is scheduled to resume consideration of the Matthew Shepard Act, named for the gay student murdered in 1998. Shepard’s father, Dennis Shepard, writes about the importance of still fighting for its passage.

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Dennis Shepard, father of Matthew Shepard.

By Dennis Shepard

This month, the Senate is scheduled to resume consideration of the Matthew Shepard Act, named for the gay student murdered in 1998. The companion legislation co-sponsored by Republican Gordon Smith and Democrat Edward Kennedy is an amendment to a defense reauthorization measure. Senate action has been delayed over debate about the war in Iraq, and President Bush has vowed to veto the act if it reaches his desk. Shepard’s father, Dennis Shepard, writes about the importance of still fighting for its passage.

When my son Matthew was murdered nearly nine years ago, my family had a decision to make. We could mourn Matthew’s death privately—withdrawing into some semblance of seclusion, try to resume our “normal” lives, pretending that nothing had changed…or we could use this tragedy to talk about hate and help make Matthew’s murder a wake-up call throughout our country. We made our decision—a choice we consciously and proudly continue to support every day.

Our son died because of hate. He was killed simply because he was gay. For us, our choice was a no-brainer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Matthew—his spirit, his passion for people, or his smile. And since his death, we have witnessed more acts of hate, bigotry, and injustice against other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender Americans. For Matthew and all of the other victims, our family has chosen to fight and to act—to speak out against hate, to “come out” as allies, and to engage ourselves in the process of change.   

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Matthew Shepard

Some days are harder than others, but I choose to act for the memory of my son. I choose to act for the memories of the thousands of victims of hate crimes. I choose to act for those who don’t have the strength or ability to act. I choose to act because we, as a nation, cannot afford not to.

I choose to act because I was, and still am, very proud of my son…of who he was and the struggles he had to overcome to become that man. I choose to act because I never want another GLBT American to go through the fear, the pain, the violence, or the loneliness that Matthew went through on that horrible night. I choose to act because I never want another parent to go through what we went through—the grief, the giant hole in the heart, the bedside vigil, or the realization that holidays, family vacations, and the normal, dull routine of work, home, and life will never, ever be the same.

All of us—gay and straight alike—need to act. Hate affects each and every one of us. It knows no limits, follows no clear set of rules, and has infiltrated our society’s most basic institutions. For that reason, I am humbled that the United States House of Representatives has chosen to act, and to do so in Matt’s memory, and the United States Senate is poised to follow. They are now taking the first giant step in making the Matthew Shepard Act the law of our land.  

The legislation is simple: to protect people from being attacked, beaten, brutalized, and murdered because of who they are. It’s a necessary, measured response to the consequences of hate that took my son away from me and has taken far too many other Americans from those who loved them.

I challenge all of you to follow the example of the House by making the choice to act. Encourage your senators to vote for the Matthew Shepard Act. Today. Tell your story about how hate has affected your family. Today.   Come out as GLBT and allied.   Today. Choose to erase hate. Today! We all have a responsibility to act. If we don’t, who will?
Dennis Shepard and his wife, Judy Shepard, founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation in memory of their son.

IN THE HOUSE

In May, the House of Representatives passed its version of the hate-crimes legislation, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, with a 237-to-180 vote. Representatives John Conyers, the Democrats from Michigan, and Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican, had introduced the measure in March. Of the 32-member Texas delegation, 10 representatives voted for the act, 18 voted against, and four members did not vote. Among the Houston/Galveston-area contingent, Al Green and Sheila Jackson-Lee voted aye. Kevin Brady, John Culberson, Ted Poe, and Ron Paul voted nay. Nick Lampson did not cast a vote.

Both the House and Senate versions of the legislation will strengthen the ability of federal, state, and local governments to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity. More info: www.matthewshepard.org.

ON THE WEB: Read an interview with Judy Shepard (“Visions of Peace,” December 2000 OutSmart).

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