On Thursday, Oct. 7, the Shepard family marks the one-year anniversary of the beating death of son Matthew, a gay college student left to die, tied to a fence post in rural Wyoming.
By design, the day also brings the premiere of a documentary film on hate crimes, Journey to a Hate-free Millennium, which features Matthew's case prominently.
|President Clinton signed an executive order Thursday increasing penalties for hate crimes and making other changes in the military justice code. |
CBS News White House Correspondent Peter Maer reports the order increases penalties for hate crimes under the military code. It also stiffens penalties for crimes motivated by hatred involving the victim's religion, race or sexual orientation. In a written statement the president said the new rule sends a strong message that violence based on hatred will not be tolerated in the military. Mr. Clinton took the steps following recommendations by a committee of military experts.
The tragedy of her son's death brought about a transformation in Judy Shepard. Immediately after the murder, she shunned the spotlight. But over the last year, she has become a spokeswoman for gay rights and hate crime legislation.
She wanted to be involved in Journey to a Hate-free Millennium because, she says, "I'm a voice for the faceless. You know, I just feel people see me, and they see middle America, and they know this can happen anywhere, any time, and I have a voice to speak for more than just Matt."
Matthew was 21, a gay college student in Wyoming, when he was lured from a local bar by two young men. He was savagely beaten with fists and the butt of a gun, then tied to a fence where he remained for 18 hours before being found. He died several days later.
The brutal attack on a young gay man touched the nation, and the victim's mother was surprised at the outpouring.
"We were totally amazed at how he touched so many people around the world," Judy Shepard recalls.
The documentary focuses on Matthew Shepard and two other victims of hate crimes that shocked the nation this year: James Byrd who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas; and student Rachel Scott, massacred at Columbine High School.
|Judy Shepard: transformed into advocate fighting hate crimes|
She emerged from her own grief to try to spread a message of tolerance.
"I've learned a lot, and it has contributed a lot to my change," Judy Shepard says. "I've encountered so much ignorance that that's really what's driven me into what I'm doing right now."
Her advice to others who have gay children: "Parents react in such a negative way that the children are kicked out of their homes or the families disown them," she says.
"I just want to tell these parents that their time with their children [is] so important, that our children are gifts to us and to the world," she says. "And they don't become a stranger from one day to the next when they tell you they are gay."
Journey to a Hate-free Millennium will be shown on college campuses and at other schools across the country. Judy Shepard and the movie's producers hope it will get people thinking about their own prejudices.
Asked if he could have made the movie without the help of Judy Shepard, producer Brent Scarpo says, "I wish that I could have done this without the Shepards, without James Byrd, without Columbine. I wish that I didn't have to do this at all."
Judy Shepard has not yet visited the fence where her son died. "No, I'm not ready," she says. "I don't want to go there until everything is done and maybe not even then. I've thought about it and thought about it, and I'm just not ready."
"I feel a presence with me every day, and I know it must be Matt," she explains. "I think I'm doing what he would want me to do."
Joining Judy Shepard at the premiere of Journey to a Hate-free Millennium, to be held in Colorado Springs, Colo., will be members of the Byrd and Scott families. After that, the film will move to a Los Angeles premiere and begin a tour of colleges and other schools.
To learn about an anti-gay harassment ad also featuring Judy Shepard, read "Mom's Plea Against Gay Baiting."
To learn more about other victims of hate crimes, read "48 Hours: Torn by Hate."