St. Paul Minn. The mother of a 21-year-old gay man who died after being beaten and lashed to a fence in Wyoming says the gay community needs to show that gay people are just as boring as everyone else.
"If the community hadn't been a mystery, my son would still be here," Judy Shepard told a University of St. Thomas audience Wednesday.
Shepard's son, Matthew, died several days after two men attacked him near Laramie, Wyo., in October 1998. The killing led to vigils and rallies throughout the country.
The two men who killed Matthew Shepard are now serving life sentences.
Judy Shepard now travels the nation giving lectures and lobbying for a federal hate crime law. She and her husband have created The Matthew Shepard Foundation to help fight hate crimes.
Shepard drew laughter from the 300 people when she said gay people should show "that you are nothing to be afraid of, that you are just like everybody else boring." She said the news media too often focuses on the "extravagant" people at the front of the gay pride parades and ignores the more ordinary people at the rear of the parades.
Since her son's death, Shepard said she has learned much about the gay community and even enjoys going to a drag queen bingo parlor in Denver. She praised the men there for being "so wonderfully honest about who they are."
But gays keeping a lower profile need to come out of the closet to serve as role models for young people who are struggling with their sexual identity but don't identify with drag queens, Shepard said.
"I know it's hard, and I know it's risky," she said. "You could lose your job."
Shepard said her son telephoned her from halfway across the world the family lived in Saudi Arabia and he was in Wyoming to tell her he was gay. She said he made her promise not to tell his father until he could find the right time to do it.
But she told anyway. The response from her husband, she said, was, "Well, he just hasn't met the right girl yet."
College students made up the vast majority of the audience, but some members of the gay community also showed up to hear Shepard.
Kay Sailer, 47, and her partner, Deb Swan, 58, said they were eager to support the push for federal hate crime legislation. "I think it is important to have hate crime legislation for all minorities," Sailer said.
Sailer also praised Shepard for her energy and determination to make a difference.
"I think she is trying to make something good out of something horrible that happened to her son," Sailer said.