2014 Presidential Symposium to Feature Anti-Hate Crimes Activist and Civil Rights Advocate Judy Shepard

Judy ShepardFeb. 18, 2014, Blue Bell/Pottstown, Pa.—Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard who was the victim of a fatal anti-gay hate crime, will be the guest speaker at Montgomery County Community College’s Annual Presidential Symposium on Thursday, March 27, 2014, from 12:45 to 2:15 p.m. in the Science Center Theater, 340 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell.

The program will be simulcast to the College’s South Hall Community Room, West Campus, 101 College Drive, Pottstown. The community is invited to come and hear Judy Shepard speak about how to make schools, workplaces and communities safe and accepting places for everyone. The lecture is free, but tickets are required. For tickets, call 215-641-6518 or visit mc3.edu/livelyarts.

Since 1998, autumn has been most difficult time for the Shepard family, as they are haunted by the events of Oct. 6 when their son Matthew, a student at the University of Wyoming, was attacked by two men, tortured and beaten near Laramie, Wyoming. He later died on Oct. 12 from severe head injuries. During the trial, it was revealed that Matthew Shepard was targeted because he was gay.

In the aftermath of this dark tragedy, the nation reacted in shock, while the Shepard family mourned the death of their oldest son and brother. Compelled by their grief and motivated by a desire to prevent other hate acts, Judy and Dennis Shepard started the Matthew Shepard Foundation and became vocal advocates for civil rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community.

As part of her advocacy efforts and as a tribute to Matthew, Judy Shepard wrote and published a book in 2009, The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed. In October 2009, the U.S. Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

While some progress has been made since the law was enacted, Judy Shepard continues to travel across the country advocating for the acceptance and equality of the LGBTQ community.

“We go to schools and companies and community groups to implore everyone there to embrace diversity,” Judy Shepard writes in a blog post published in The Huffington Post. “We try to give young people hope, despite their parents' or peers' rejection of them, that they have a bright future. We keep Matt's story alive and look to turn bystanders into activists.”

The play and subsequent critically acclaimed HBO movie, “The Laramie Project,” by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, was written about Matthew and is performed frequently to increase awareness of equality for the LGBTQ community and to end hate crimes.

Montgomery County Community College’s Drama Club and Theatre Arts program will present “The Laramie Project,” on April 3, 4, and 5 at 8 p.m.; April 4 at 12:30 p.m.; and on April 5 and 6 at 2 p.m. in the Blackbox Theater, Lower Level Science Center, Central Campus, 340 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell. Tickets cost $5. To order, call 215-641-6518 or visit mc3.edu/livelyarts.

The Presidential Symposium and its civil rights advocacy mission is one of the many events scheduled by the College this year relating to its 50th Anniversary celebration. In 1964, the year the College was founded, the Civil Rights Act was signed and enacted into law. This landmark legislation strives to outlaw the major forms of discrimination and provide equal opportunities for all. Additionally, the students’ performances of “The Laramie Project” will highlight the significance of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as an extension of the 1964 legislation.

For more information about the Matthew Shepard Foundation, visit matthewshepard.org.

by Diane VanDyke

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