Mom's Plea Against Gay Baiting

The mother of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was beaten and left for dead last year, is appearing in a public awareness campaign aimed at reducing anti-gay taunting in public schools.

The television announcement features Judy Shepard and was unveiled Sunday by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The spot begins airing this month on MTV.

Shepard died Oct. 12, 1998, days after he was beaten unconscious and tied to a ranch fence outside Laramie, Wyo. Two men were accused of luring the 21-year-old student out of a bar, driving him to a remote prairie and then robbing and pistol-whipping him.

In the announcement, high school boys in a locker room shout anti-gay insults. Then Judy Shepard says: "The next time you use words like these, think about what they really mean."

A photo of her son flashes on the screen with the dates 1976-1998. Then the phrases "Murdered because he was gay" and "End Hate" are followed by a shot of Judy Shepard with her head bowed.

"Please don't let there be a next time," she says quietly.

The group also presented Judy Shepard a Pathfinder award for her efforts in the fight to end anti-gay harassment and bias in public schools.

"I'm a newcomer to this fight but I'm going to be here a long time," she told about 600 students and educators who attended the conference.

Read more about the new legislation in "Calif. Gay Rights Laws Signed."
Kevin Jennings, GLSENÂ's founder and executive director, said Judy Shepard played a key role in prompting California Gov. Gray Davis to sign legislation extending protections based on sexual orientation to students in public schools.

Davis signed the legislation late Saturday to outlaw the harassment of gay students and teachers in public schools and colleges.

"We recently completed the school climate survey and found 91 percent of the students we surveyed said they sometimes or frequently heard these kind of comments at their school," says Jennings.

"Sixty-nine percent said they had been harassed personally, half of them on a daily basis," he says. "I think we'd all like to think that bigotry and intolerance are exceptions to the rule. But the fact is for gay and lesbian students, the rule is harassment. That's what they face every day."

Read about President Clinton's views in "President Clinton Urges Gay Tolerance."
While I am interested in seeing hate crimes laws passed, my primary interest is not in punishing future killers such as the men who take the lives of people like Matthw Shepard," Jennings explains.

"My goal is to prevent those killers from being created in the first place," he says. "Every parent has a right to send their child to school and know that child is going to be safe there. That includes parents whose children are gay or lesbian, like Judy Shepard.

"We have a diverse country, but we must respect all people. Our tag line is teaching respect for all," Jennings says.

Other Pathfinder awards went to Jose Plata, the first openly gay board member of the Dallas Independent School District. Plata argued that Dallas school staff should be trained to understand the issues faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

Other winners were Chris Hawley, who battled officials to form a gay students club in a Greenville, S.C., high school; Jascie Williams, a high school sophomore from Philadelphia who also formed a student club; the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian and Gay Rights Project; and We Are Family, an organization in Charleston, S.C., that raises community awareness.