Matthew Shepard, an openly gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, was brutally murdered 12 years ago by two young men who targeted him because of his sexual orientation. He was pistol-whipped, tortured, tied to a fence post and left to die by the men, who are now serving life sentences for their actions.
Since then, his mother, Judy Shepard, has been an activist for issues involving gay youth. Her work has led to legislation in her son's name, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The legislatioin, signed by President Obama in October 2009, expands federal hate-crime laws to include crimes movitivated by a person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Judy and her husband, Dennis, also founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation to combat hate and intolerance.
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In the wake of Tyler Clementi's suicide after two students allegedly streamed a sexual encounter of his with another man on the Internet, Judy shared her take on the tragedy, on "The Early Show" Friday.
She said the students, Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, and Molly Wei should be punished for what they're accused of doing.
"I hope they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law," she said. "What they did was reckless, thoughtless and hateful."
Judy said Clementi's death has brought back Matthew's death, and she says his parents have her deepest sympathies.
She said, "Only they know the true soul of their son, and that is what they need to hold in their hearts now."
Judy has worked for years for tolerance of homosexuality in the U.S. But has anything changed toward homosexuality since her son's death?
Judy told "Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez, "You know, we have such vicious rhetoric floating around the country, I'm not really sure who our leaders are and what they think they're communicating to our young people. All you have to do is go to the floor of the Congress, media, the newspapers, about the discontent with 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and the (gay) marriage issue and it still seems we are trying to relegate the gay community to second-class citizens."
As for lawmakers, Judy said, "They should be granting basic civil rights to the gay community instead of continuing to try to deny them. To me, that's what it is, basic civil rights. To deny them service in the military or job security on the federal level, or even the right to marry and receive all those benefits that are derived from that, is just unfair and, in my view, un-American."
Rodriguez remarked, "In the meantime, though, I feel it has to include parents and schools who are educating children, teaching them attitudes. What do you wish the people who killed Matthew would have known or could have been taught before they committed this atrocious crime?"
Judy replied, "I just think it's so important to try to communicate to our children and/or students empathy, to understand what other people's lives are like, and a general rule of accepting everyone for who they are and respecting them, just for being here. Self-respect is just so important. And if our society is not allowing us to even feel that, I don't know what the recourse is. But, we work very hard in the school system to try to (combat) bullying, but if we don't deal with the issues of the bully, we really get nowhere. What we do at school needs to be followed up at home. And what we do at home needs to be followed up at school. I think we just think someone else is taking care of it, and, evidently, they're not."
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