November 3, 2014 at 2:13 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Matthew Shepard’s death ‘still really hard’ for parents
Dennis Shepard, Judy Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade

Dennis and Judy Shepard speak at the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City on Oct. 30, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Williams)

MEXICO CITY — Dennis and Judy Shepard sat attentively at the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City on Oct. 30 as LGBT children and their parents shared stories about their experiences in the Mexican capital. Cast members of a local production of “The Laramie Project,” advocates with Mexico’s version of the “It Gets Better” campaign and those affiliated with local PFLAG chapters also attended the event the U.S. Embassy in Mexico coordinated.

“It was a lot of sharing of stories, it felt like a support group,” Judy Shepard told the Washington Blade during an Oct. 31 interview with her husband. “It was very emotional last night. They had beautiful stories to share.”

The Shepards spoke with the Blade during the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex (ILGA) World Conference that took place in Mexico City last week.

They took part in an Oct. 30 panel on families at the ILGA World Conference in which Tushar Malik, an Indian LGBT rights advocate who is a former Human Rights Campaign fellow, took part. Judy and Dennis Shepard earlier in the day spoke with students, teachers and parents at a Mexico City high school.

“In a country like Mexico where they’re just starting out on their journey to accept the gay community publicly, we try to broaden the message to include all kinds of discrimination and bullying,” said Judy Shepard.

Matthew Shepard would have been ‘thrilled’ by parents’ activism

The Shepards trip to Mexico is their latest trip abroad with the State Department.

They spoke to the Blade earlier this year from Trinidad and Tobago where they met with U.S. Embassy officials and local parents and attended a screening of “The Laramie Project” at a local university. The Shepards then traveled to Jamaica where they attended a second screening of the play.

The couple since 2012 has traveled to Singapore, Taiwan, Sweden, Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Hungary. The Shepards later this month are scheduled to attend a film festival in the Russian city of St. Petersburg where the film “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine” is scheduled to be shown.

Dennis Shepard during the interview noted Mexico’s anti-discrimination law includes sexual orientation and the country’s federal government is “using that right now to try and force this equal rights for the gay community.”

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Mexico City since 2010.

The Mexican capital’s comprehensive anti-discrimination law includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera has proposed allowing the city’s trans residents to legally change their name without a court order.

The Shepards both acknowledged Mexican advocates continue to face challenges in spite of recent advances in Mexico City, noting the differences towards homosexuality and other LGBT-specific issues between Denver and Wyoming.

“You go from Denver…to Wyoming, which is so rural and there’s no diversity,” said Dennis Shepard. “You’re not educated in the true facts.”

“You don’t even have to leave Colorado to find that,” added Judy Shepard.

She added she “hopes” her son would be proud of the advocacy efforts she and Dennis Shepard continue to do in his name.

President Obama in 2011 signed a federal hate crimes law that bares Matthew Shepard’s name.

Jason Collins, who is the first openly gay person to play for a major professional sports team, wore the jersey number 98 in honor of Matthew Shepard when he played for the Brooklyn Nets earlier this year. The Matthew Shepard Foundation last month honored the out athlete at its annual gala.

“This political side of it that [Judy Shepard]’s done is something that he would have liked,” Dennis Shepard told the Blade. “But it’s also helping people which he loved to do, which she’s been doing and helping kids…he’d have been thrilled.”

Son’s death ‘still really hard’

Dennis and Judy Shepard traveled to Mexico City roughly three weeks after the 16th anniversary of their son’s death.

“It’s still really hard,” Judy Shepard told the Blade.

Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson on Oct. 6, 1998, robbed Matthew Shepard and brutally beat him before tying him to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo. Same-sex couples in Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana began to legally marry 16 years later to the day after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear lawsuits challenging gay nuptials bans in the five states.

Gays and lesbians began to legally marry in Wyoming on Oct. 21 after a federal judge struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

Judy Shepard noted to the Blade the judge issued his ruling on the 16th anniversary of her son’s funeral.

“It was a real dichotomy right, but you can still get fired in Wyoming and they have no hate crimes legislation at all,” she said. “So you take one step forward, but you got all these things holding back. They didn’t do it willingly.”

Dennis Shepard noted to the Blade he feels “the priority” in Wyoming should have been enacting LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination laws before extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“Well Wyoming’s reversed totally,” he said. “They have, to me, the number three priority became number one…by accident.”

Book questioning Matthew Shepard’s murder ‘ridiculous’

The Shepards spoke with the Blade a week after Julie Bindel in a column the Guardian published defended gay journalist Stephen Jimenez who suggests in his 2013 book that their son was dealing crystal meth and a drug deal gone bad prompted McKinney to kill him.

“As time passes, its easier for people to dismiss a court hearing and go to the conspiracies,” Judy Shepard told the Blade. “Anybody who was there experiencing all that stuff as it was happening, everything in the book just becomes ridiculous. It’s all hearsay.”

Dennis Shepard noted local law enforcement officials who investigated his son’s murder are among those who have denied the claims made in Jimenez’s book.

“He thinks by denigrating a well-known figure he can make a name for himself as being an investigative reporter, even though the people he uses as witnesses are questionable and their motives are questionable,” said Dennis Shepard.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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