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Matthew Shepard portrait dedicated at National Cathedral

Gay Wyoming student killed in 1998 hate crime honored in daylong ceremony

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Judy and Dennis Shepard stand in front of a portrait of their son, Matthew. Matthew Shepard was honored at a ceremony on Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime while tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo., was honored at a ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral dedicating a newly commissioned portrait of Shepard.

Officials at the cathedral said the portrait by artist Kelly Latimore and commissioned by LGBTQ members of the Cathedral staff, is the only artistic image of Matthew Shepard created in collaboration with Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who were present during the ceremony.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes were interred at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018, 20 years after his death. The Cathedral announced in a statement this week that the Dec. 1 dedication of the Shepard portrait would also take place on what would have been Shepard’s 46th birthday.

A Thanksgiving and Celebration of Matthew Shepard service was held on October 26, 2018 at the Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“The horrific murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs are a tragic reminder that our LGBTQ friends and family continue to be targeted for who they love, and Matthew Shepard’s legacy reminds us of the urgency to confront bigotry and embrace people of all backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations,” said The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, in a statement.

Events surrounding the portrait dedication began with a 7 a.m. online prayer service “to celebrate and recall Matthew Shepard’s life,” the statement released by the Cathedral says. The service was led by Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The Cathedral next hosted a preview of the portrait for the news media at 10:30 a.m., where Dennis and Judy Shepard talked about the portrait and their son’s life and the impact his death had on the nation’s understanding of hate crimes.

“It’s amazing how similar and what a great job that Kelly [Latimore] has done to make it look like Matt and showing the essence of Matt,” Dennis Shepard told the Washington Blade while viewing the portrait in the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where the portrait was on display.

Artist Latimore, who also spoke to reporters during the morning briefing at the chapel, said he was moved in his discussions with Judy and Dennis Shepard while getting ready to begin work on the painting by copies of dozens of letters they sent him that had been sent to the Shepards by people across the country after their son’s death.

Latimore included written excerpts from dozens of those letters as the background to his portrait of Matthew Shepard, which can be seen and read when standing close to the portrait.

Artist Kelly Latimore (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

“Matthew will not be forgotten,” an excerpt from one of the letters on the portrait says.
Dennis and Judy Shepard created the Matthew Shepard Foundation shortly after Matthew’s death, which has been credited with playing a lead role in advocating for the passage by Congress in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The measure was the first federal hate crime statute that expanded the coverage of the federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class.

President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Oct. 22, 2009. (Washington Blade archive photo by Michael Key)

The Cathedral was to open its St. Joseph’s Chapel from 2-5 p.m. on Thursday to visitors where the Matthew Shepard portrait was on display. Dennis and Judy Shepard were scheduled to be present to greet visitors.

According to the statement released by the Cathedral, later in the evening at 7 p.m., the portrait was to be officially dedicated in a private service in the Cathedral’s crypt near the site where Shepard’s ashes were interred.

“A longtime supporter of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church, the Cathedral considers LGBTQ equality one of the great civil rights issues of the 21st century,” the statement released by the Cathedral says.

One of the two men charged with Matthew Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to a murder charge in exchange for an agreement by prosecutors not to seek a death sentence. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The other man charged in the murder, Aaron McKinney, pleaded not guilty and went to trial, where he was convicted of murder by a jury. In a dramatic statement before the judge at the conclusion of the trial, Dennis Shepard announced he and his wife had asked prosecutors and the judge to spare McKinney from being sentenced to death, something he said McKinney did not do while fatally striking his son in the head multiple times with the barrel of a gun after the two men tied him to a fence post in a remote field outside Laramie.

The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.

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District of Columbia

‘Talking Trans History’ explores lives of D.C. advocates

Rainbow History Project holds first panel for city-funded Trans History Initiative

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Seated from left panelists Earline Budd, Rayceen Pendarvis, and Gabrielle ‘Gibby’ Thomas are joined by Rainbow History Project officials and supporters. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Longtime D.C. transgender rights advocates Earline Budd and Gabrielle ‘Gibby’ Thomas gave personal accounts of their transition as transgender women and their work as trans rights advocates Tuesday night, Jan. 24, at a “Talking Trans History” panel discussion organized by D.C.’s Rainbow History Project.

Joining them as a panelist was Rayceen Pendarvis, the acclaimed local event host, public speaker, and LGBTQ community advocate. Pendarvis, among other things, told of being nurtured and taught by dynamic transgender women who proudly affirmed their identity not only as trans people but productive citizens in the community at large.

Vincent Slatt, Rainbow History Project’s director of archiving, served as moderator of the panel discussion. He told the audience of about 25 people who gathered at the Southwest Branch of the D.C. Public Library that the event was the first of many such panels planned by the project’s recently launched Trans History Initiative.

Slatt noted that Rainbow History Project received a $15,000 grant for fiscal year 2023 from the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to conduct the Trans History Initiative. The initiative plans to “better integrate the often-under-represented histories of trans people into our programming,” according to a RHP statement.

Budd, 64, who has been a trans-identified activist since the 1970s, became involved in the 1980s with supporting people with HIV/AIDS before founding the D.C. organizations Trans Health Empowerment and Empowering the Transgender Community (ETC), for which she currently serves as executive director. She has received numerous awards for her work in support of the trans community and her self-proclaimed role as “the advocate” for the trans and LGBTQ community.

In her remarks at the panel discussion, Budd told of her childhood upbringing in a religious family where, like many trans people, her parents didn’t approve of her early identity as a girl.

“I want to say that around eight or nine my mother found me to be different,” Budd said. “The difference was she would lay my clothes out, my sister’s clothes and my clothes for us to go to school. And when I would come downstairs, I would always have on my sister’s clothes,” Budd told the gathering.

“And she would say why do you have on your sister’s clothes?” Budd continued. “I said mommy, it fits. No, it does not, you’re a boy,” Budd quoted her mother as responding. “And let me tell you, that went on and on and on,” said Budd, who told how she eventually parted ways with her parents and left the house to embark on her role as one of D.C.’s leading trans advocates.

Among her many endeavors was successful discrimination complaints, including one against a D.C. skating rink and another against the D.C. Jail for discrimination based on gender identity. Budd told how she won in both cases, with strong backing from the D.C. Office of Human Rights. 

Pendarvis, among other things, spoke about how an association with trans women as a young adult helped to shape Pendarvis’s longstanding and award-winning role as co-founder of Team Rayceen Productions, including 10 years as leading host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” which highlighted topics promoting the LGBTQ and trans community in D.C.

Similar to Budd, Pendarvis has received numerous awards and honors, including recognition from the D.C. City Council, for work as a host and speaker at LGBTQ-related festivals, fundraisers and other events.

“As an activist and host, I have been blessed to do many things,” Pendarvis told the panel discussion gathering. “For many who do not quite know how to identify or ask me to identify, first of all, I’m a human being,” Pendarvis said. “I am a father of five and a mother of many.”

Pendarvis added, “I’m a human being first and foremost, a child of God. And my trans sisters uplifted me first, embraced me first. I came out in a community where our transgender sisters were always on the front line.”

Thomas, 65, told the panel session she is a native of North Brentwood, Md., located just outside D.C., but D.C. became her home since shortly after finishing high school. She began her work in the LGBTQ community in 1989 as a caregiver for people with HIV. She has since worked for the local organizations Us Helping Us, Transgender Health Empowerment, and Terrific, Inc. She currently works for Damien Ministries and its “Trans Specific” programming called Shugg’s Place that, among other things, focuses on providing services for transgender older adults.

She told of her growing up as one of seven children in a family whose mother and father, she said ‘were very loving.” But like other trans kids, Thomas said her parents were uncomfortable over her desire to identify as a girl. A more understanding next door neighbor allowed Thomas to spend time in her house as Thomas helped with household errands.

 “I would go to the store and things like that for her,” Thomas said. “But what’s most important, I could dress as I wanted to in her house. She would give me dresses that I could wear. And I could go up there and put on my dresses and watch TV,” Thomas continued. “And then I would get to take my dress off and go home because mom and daddy wasn’t standing for that.”

At around the age of 10, Thomas said, she was aware of current events and observed that her father was a strong supporter and admirer of Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights leadership. “I said you can march with Martin Luther King for everybody else’s rights but you are going to deny me mine,” she recalled telling her father.

Thomas said she initially began patronizing D.C. gay bars after befriending gay men from her high school. A short time later, after realizing that the gay scene was not who she was, she discovered the then D.C. gay drag bars Louis’ and The Rogue and had a chance to meet “people like me.” But she said someone she met at one of those two bars introduced her to the then D.C. Black gay bar called the Brass Rail, where transgender women hung out.

“And I said, oh my God, I am home. This is heaven,” Thomas told the panel gathering. “When I came to the Brass Rail I felt like I was home” as a trans person, Thomas said. “I met so many terrific people.”

She went on to tell about the trials and tribulations of fully transitioning as a trans woman and her growth as a transgender activist with a career dedicated to supporting the trans and LGBTQ community.

Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, spoke briefly at the start of the Talking Trans History panel discussion. He said the mayor’s office was excited to be supporting the Rainbow History Project’s newly launched Trans History Initiative.

“I’m really, really excited to work for a mayor who not only is fighting for things for our community, but truly funding these opportunities,” Bowles said. “This is about you and our trans communities. So, I’m here to listen.”

Slatt also announced at the panel session that Rainbow History Project has a paid job opening for one or more positions to help run the city funded Trans History Initiative. He said information about the job opening for people interested in applying can be obtained through RHP’s website. He said a video recording of the panel session would be posted on the website in a week or two.

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District of Columbia

SMYAL for the New Year fundraiser set for Thursday

Annual event benefits housing, mental health programs

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A previous SMYAL fundraising event was held at Red Bear Brewing. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders) is hosting its annual SMYAL for the New Year fundraising event on Thursday at Red Bear Brewing Co. The event will kick off a series of fundraisers supporting the non-profit’s new street outreach and mental health programs.

“SMYAL for the New Year serves a dual purpose,” said Hancie Stokes, director of communications for SMYAL. “One is to fundraise for the organization and the programs and services that we provide for LGBTQ youth, but the other is also to be an introductory event for folks in the community.” 

For more than five years, the Young Donors Committee and SMYAL Champions have held SMYAL for the New Year to engage young professionals in philanthropy. The Young Donors Committee is comprised of new philanthropists between 20 and 30 years old and operates under the larger SMYAL Champions network of donors who give roughly $10 to $35 a month. 

This year, SMYAL is directing those funds to a new bilingual street outreach program aimed at connecting LGBTQ youth to services such as legal aid, healthcare, hormone replacement therapy, and housing. The non-profit is also fundraising for its free mental health counseling program, which opened last year.

SMYAL’s commitment to assisting and empowering LGBTQ+ youth in Washington D.C. dates back to 1984, but the non-profit recently underwent programming changes. In March 2020 when COVID-19 hit, most of SMYAL’s programming went online, connecting members on Discord and Zoom. 

While SMYAL aims to engage those in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, the virtual platform allowed the organization to reach youth in Texas, California, and Florida who are unable to access local centers like SMYAL.

“We did about two years of virtual events and we had folks still showing up and listening to what our programmatic updates were,” Stokes said. “But it is really nice to be able to share physical space with folks again.”

SMYAL continues to offer two virtual events a week alongside two in-person events, however, many of the larger fundraising events are back to fully in-person.

Last year, SMYAL’s new year event centered around two housing programs, which opened in spring 2022 and has since made the non-profit the largest LGBTQ youth housing provider in the region. But since Casa Ruby – an LGBTQ community center and housing provider – closed last September, more youth are in need of housing.

“One of our main goals as we head into 2023 is to really grow that program,” Stokes added.

SMYAL receives funding from the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ affairs and Capital One, but Stokes says more support is crucial to continue investing in services that are accessible to non-English speaking youth.

Meanwhile, as anti-LGBTQ rhetoric gains traction in legislation across the country, Stokes emphasizes the importance of maintaining a safe space for LGBTQ youth.

“Our role as a service provider is to make sure that young people have places that they can turn to people that they can talk with, where they can just be a young person, understand their LGBTQ identity and find community and support,” Stokes said. “That’s what our programs really strive to do, everything from our housing programs to our mental health services, even just our weekly drop-in programs.”

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Blade welcomes new journalism fellow, intern

Winter Hawk to cover issues of interest to local queer youth

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Winter Hawk and Andrés Jové Rodríguez.

The Blade Foundation this week announced the recipient of a new 12-week fellowship focused on covering issues of interest to queer youth in D.C.

Winter Hawk, a senior majoring in multiplatform journalism at the University of Maryland College Park was named recipient of the fellowship, which is funded by a grant from the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

“The Washington Blade and Blade Foundation have been a crucial voice for the LGBTQIA+ community and movement since 1969,” said Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. “Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs believe it is essential to support the next generation of LGBTQIA+ journalism.” 

Hawk started her new position on Monday. Her work will be featured in the Washington Blade and she will be mentored by Blade editors and reporters.

“Despite covering LGBTQ+ news in art and culture for the past year, I feel like I’ve only skimmed the surface on true and just LGBTQ+ news coverage,” Hawk said. “As a queer woman, I cover LGBTQ+ stories because I want to highlight the LGBTQ+ community in ways its community thrives, not only to cover the community when it faces heterosexism. I’m incredibly grateful and excited to delve deeper into the stories that represent and impact the LGBTQ+ community in D.C. through this fellowship, especially as I seek ways to incorporate and elevate disenfranchised voices.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Blade this week welcomed a new winter intern. Andrés Jové Rodríguez is a third-year student at the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo.

He is majoring in Tele-Radio Communications with an emphasis on News, Production and Direction. Andrés is interning with the Washington Blade this semester as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

“My goal is to one day be able to report on international and national political news on broadcast media so as to keep the general public informed of the to’s and fro’s of not only our political system, but also the ones abroad,” he said. “Likewise, I believe it’s imperative that as a reporter I properly educate myself on evolving trends that are taking the world by storm in order to have a conscious mode of communicating.”

Blade Editor Kevin Naff welcomed the two new contributors. 

“The best part of my job is working with the next generation of LGBTQ journalists and we’re all thrilled to welcome Winter and Andrés to the team,” Naff said. “They will help the Blade continue our mission of telling the stories of our local queer community and elevating underrepresented voices.”

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