In the campaign video released this week highlighting his accomplishments on behalf of LGBT equality, President Barack Obama singled out the mother of Matthew Shepard whose 1998 hate crime murder shocked the nation.
After her son’s death, Judy Shepard worked tirelessly for passage of a bill that expands federal hate-crimes legislation to include sexual orientation. It was signed into law by Obama in 2009.
Says Obama in the video: ‘Meeting people like Judy Shepard, and not only hearing the heartbreaking tragedy of Matthew but also the strength and determination she brought to make sure that never happens to young people anywhere in the country again … those stories made me passionate about the issue.’
Shepard was asked by The Atlantic what it feels like when a president declares publicly that he’s been moved by your story and what goes through your mind when you realize that your family’s tragedy has helped change American law and policy?
‘I am humbled and grateful that something good has come from losing Matt,’ Shepard said via email. ‘But it wasn’t this one incident or just our story that changed things. It was many people and other unfortunate incidents. If it was Matt’s story that resonated, I’m gratified something came from it. In my thoughts and prayers, I thank President Obama everyday for his compassion and empathy for all Americans.’
She added: ‘I think the basic notion of ‘telling your story’ to educate the public at large helped the president come to his understanding of what ‘love’ is. Hearing the stories of LBGT friends and colleagues in regard to the inequities facing them in their everyday lives has had an impact on the president’s views. The more anyone knows about the situations facing the LBGT community the more they understand about the inequality and legal discrimination and the more they want to help set things right. Matthew’s story opened the eyes of folks in both the gay and straight world in regard to the violence and hatred facing members of the LGBT community.’