Matthew's Parents Speak on National TV

Image: Dennis and Judy Shepard on 'Dateline NBC'

The parents of the late Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student whose bashing death in October drew unprecedented international media attention, have given two major media interviews. One was taped with Katie Couric and will air in a 13-minute segment on NBC's "Dateline" February 5, with excerpts on that morning's "Today" show; the other appears in the March edition of "Vanity Fair," which will be at newsstands on February 10. Judy Shepard told "Dateline" that, "It's a very frightening concept as a parent that your son now becomes a martyr, a public figure for the world. He's just our son." However, many people have said that Matthew had always hoped to become famous, although of course he expected to achieve that through international diplomacy rather than martyrdom.

"He wasn't a saint. He was just a young man in search of himself," Judy told "Vanity Fair," saying she found it disturbing that some had compared Matthew to Jesus. (The way Matthew was tied to a split-rail fence by his killer invited comparisons to crucifixion, as well as his discoverer's unforgettable comparison to a "scarecrow.") Judy said, "You must understand, it's like putting him on a pedestal that just won't work. I'm concerned that if people find out that it's not true, they'll be disappointed or angry or hate him."

Judy told both Couric and the magazine that the fatal bashing was only the last in a string of violent attacks Matthew had experienced all his life. One of those was a gang-rape in Morocco when he was a high school senior, of which Judy said, "He was never the same after Morocco, and neither were we. We were always worried about his physical safety and his mental state. It seemed to him it was taking forever to feel safe." He was taking anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications, and suffered periodic depressions which had led him to consider an assisted-living residence for those with mental health problems.

"Vanity Fair" also alleges that Shepard was HIV+ at the time of his death, although no one close to him knew and likely he himself was unaware of it. However, the coroner in his case did not confirm that report.

Couric, after her interview two weeks ago, said of the Shepards, "I was so impressed with them. They are down-the-middle, level-headed people. They're just two grieving parents." She described Dennis Shepard as "clearly extremely angry," although Judy has said that, "The anger isn't really there yet." Couric said, "I think they are uncomfortable with their son being used in any political agenda. I don't think they want him to be the reason for hate crime legislation. They are not immersing themselves in the politics of this. I felt they just wanted to portray Matt as a normal young man."

Yet Judy is also reportedly part of a major demonstration against hate crimes, a 2,500-mile hike planned to begin in Skagway, Alaska June 3 and end in Laramie, Wyoming on October 12, the anniversary of Matthew's death. The International Hike Against Hate and Violence (IHAVE) is a project of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the IHAVE Foundation, whose founder, Lee Thompson, will make the entire trek, accompanying a "Flame of Hope" torch that will light permanent flames in ceremonies at both ends of the journey.

[Note: For more information about the hike, which is seeking speaking engagements en route and contributions of both goods and funds, contact the non-profit IHAVE Foundation by phone at 1-877-994-4283 or (360)-793-8500, or fax (360) 793-8500, or see their Web page.]

 

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