Matthew Shepard's father, Dennis, perhaps said it best: "Matt's beating, hospitalization and funeral focused worldwide attention on hate. Good is coming out of evil." Though the words came in a statement in which Dennis Shepard rejected the death penalty for one of two men convicted of luring 21-year-old Matthew from a bar (beating him, tying him to a fence on a rural road and leaving him to die, having never regained consciousness), it could be said for many things inspired by the anti-gay murder.
Best known probably is The Laramie Project, an award-winning play about how the killing affected people from all walks of life in Laramie, Wyoming, the town where Matthew attended college. The play tells the story not of the murder, which took place in October 1998, but of how one act changed more than just the people directly involved. But Matthew's murder also prompted Dennis Shepard and Matt's mother, Judy Shepard, to become more politically active, founding The Matthew Shepard Foundation, speaking out and participating in events championing not just gay rights, but combatting hate crimes and discrimination of other kinds as well.
As part of that effort, the University of North Texas brings Judy Shepard to campus to kick off its new program, Beyond Getting Along, which is designed "to encourage greater understanding of diversity, inclusiveness and respect." Her appearance follows five days of performances of The Laramie Project. During the event, Shepard will discuss Matthew's legacy as well as the life he led and the foundation she co-founded in his name, which is a nonprofit organization with a goal of educating people about acceptance, civil rights and legislation concerning both rights and hate crimes.
In addition to Shepard's talk and a question-and-answer session with the audience, the first event of Beyond Getting Along also includes a video introduction hosted by WFAA-Channel 8 news anchor Debbie Denmon, a UNT journalism school graduate, and a greeting by Warren Burggren, the dean of the College of Arts and Science, who helped lay the groundwork on Beyond Getting Along. Shepard will be assisted by Von Eaglin, the special assistant for diversity and community for the UNT department of housing and residence life. Eaglin will also offer the closing remarks.
The Shepards' controversial decision to not seek the death penalty for Matt's killers was because, as Dennis said in his statement during trial, "This is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy." As the Shepards began their lives without their son, they decided the best way to grieve and to honor him was to not only show mercy, but to teach it to others, too. They seem to have found a kin in UNT's new Beyond Getting Along program.
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