Guest Blogger

Beyond the Matthew Shepard Act: A Conversation Worth Listening To

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 31, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Ashleigh Banfield, hate crimes legislation, judy shepard, Matthew Shepard, Matthew Shepard Act, New York City, rachel segal-sklar, sharon stapel

Rachel Segal-Sklar is a sophomore at Skidmore College, and co-creator of the Skid TV/Youtube series: SEXILED.

Monday night on May 18th, the New York City Anti-Violence Project's Heroes Council held a very interesting and rousing conversation between Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard and Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and Sharon Stapel, Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project. Emmy Award-winning journalist Ashleigh Banfield of TruTV, who is also known for her work at NBC/MSNBC, moderated the event. The event took place at the Time Warner Center in NYC with about 100 invited guests attending. Central themes of the discussion were The Matthew Shepard Act, the anti-hate crimes legislation that is being considered by the U.S. Senate during this current session, and the broader theme of the need to achieve full civil rights for gay people and their families.

Ms. Banfield displayed her experience throughout the night, and made the environment of the discussion very comfortable for everyone involved. She kept the mood of the evening generally upbeat and guided the discussion expertly. Ms. Banfield never came off as prying or pushed the boundary of what was appropriate, while still provoking a very stimulating discussion among the two women and some audience members. She provided an atmosphere in which Mrs. Shepard and Ms. Stapel could speak freely and openly without pressure, something that is necessary to make an event like this as successful as it was.

Sharon Stapel presented herself as very intelligent and knowledgeable and addressed each question and issue brought up with a strong answer and very realistic attitude. She took more of a backseat during the conversation, which was appropriate, and added to or supported Mrs. Shepard's responses. Ms. Stapel did not stray from the topics presented and spoke very naturally. She was very informative during the dialogue and seemed like she really understood the "whole picture" of what the GLBTQ community needs to strive toward. Among the points she listed, such as electing the right officials and changing policies and laws, she emphasized the importance of education as a tool for change. It is the only way that we can gain real support from all parts of society, whether it be co-worker, family member, or police officer.

More surprisingly, Mrs. Shepard seemed to understand this as well. While many people probably saw her as a grieving mother trying to educate people about a single issue, she turned out to be deeply invested in the whole movement for acceptance and equality for LGBTQ people. She not only realized that issues such as hate crimes and gay marriage were only stepping stones on the way to total equality, but verbalized ways in which change could be brought about. She was very well spoken and very moving. After many of her remarks, people in the audience would hum in agreement, or be so moved that all they could do was say "wow." Mrs. Shepard presented herself as more than an ally, she felt a part of the movement, considering herself a part of the GLBTQ community, saying, "We're family."

Both women emphasized the need for resources to support education and prevention in order to put an end to hate crimes. They made clear that when one person is harmed by hate violence, it sends a powerful message of vulnerability to every person and community of minorities. In that way, the violence transcends an individual incident. That is why it is especially important to go beyond punitive law enforcement measures to prevent violence.

Overall, the event was a great success. It served as an uplifting yet realistic reminder that " the passage of hate crimes legislation is only the floor, and that the ceiling is the achievement of full equality for all." They were clear that not only is this the final goal but that we are solidly on the road to that end. Both women agreed that we have made tangible progress in the last ten years since the tragic death of Mathew Shepard, but there is still a lot of work to do.

For more information about the New York City Anti Violence Project and the National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs go to

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Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 1, 2009 12:54 AM

The hate crimes act should be a big step forward but it and other proposed reforms like ENDA await a new kind of society under a new kind of government before they can be fully implemented.

The only real long term solution to the bigotry, racism and misogyny that make our current social form a sewer of division and hatred is its replacement by a fundamentally changed society that doesn’t operate to protect the stolen wealth of the looter rich using the time tested device of divide and rule.

The Democrat and Republican parties are both owned by the looter class and support for those parties guarantees rule by the rich. They’re a dead end on the road to equality.

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | June 1, 2009 7:00 AM

Judy is a hero. It should come as no surprise that she has taken on the mantle of being one of the most effective voices for full equality in our movement. She has taken the time, form the moment she was thrust into the spotlight unwillingly, to educate herself, speak her truth and understand all she could about our very diverse community. She is an example to all of us for her intelligence, grace and courage.

When I saw the words: "very interesting and rousing conversation," I expected to see a report on a conversation that actually indicated dissent between speakers. Instead, it appears that this was yet another manipulative and manipulated "conversation" designed to further a hate crimes legislation act that will only further the violence of the state upon the very people the AVP claims to protect.

I'm glad that you did at least acknowledge that the guests were all "invited," which means, I'll assume, that no one with a dissenting opinion was allowed in. Once again, as with gay marriage, we're staging these supposed "conversations" about hate crimes legislation without any real public debate about the issues.

Of course Judy Shepard supports gay marriage - she doubtless knows full well that such support is crucial to gaining the support of the "gay community" (the one that gets exclusively invited to such "conversations") for hate crimes legislation.

Are we ever going to turn a critical eye on hate crimes legislation and Judy Shepard? Or is she to be a saint forever?

Roberta Sklar | June 1, 2009 10:49 AM

Actually I was surprised to hear Judy Shepard on the range of equality issues. stepping back it looks like 10 years have taught her alot about the need for a broad base of rights and equal protections for all. While she is no saint, she is certainly no sinner either. Shepard has an enlightened perspective on our status as un protected" and unequal citizens-- she identifies with our community and while she has worked tirelessly for the Mathew Shepard act to be passed her insight into our civil rights status impressive. If Judey Shepard is a one issue person-- her issue is eqaulity under the law for w all LGBT people.