Mum of murdered gay man honoured with Cronkite award

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Judy Shepard is among the recepients of this year’s Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Award, it has been announced.

SInce the murder of her son ten years ago, Mrs Shepard has become a leading advocate for gay rights.

With her husband Dennis she created The Matthew Shepard Foundation in memory of their 21-year old son, who died as a result of an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998.

Matthew was badly beaten and left to die, tied to a fence, in freezing conditions.

Aaron James McKinney and Russell Arthur Henderson are both serving life in prison for his murder.

The Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Award recognises individuals whose actions have embodied the values of civility, tolerance, diversity and cooperation in the advancement of public dialogue and public policy on traditionally controversial and divisive issues.

It is named in honour of the veteran news broadcaster.

Mr. Cronkite will present the awards at a ceremony in New York City on November 11th.

Other honorees this year are Asra Nomani, who led the Pearl Project, an investigation into the murder of Daniel Pearl, who was a guest at her home in Pakistan when he was kidnapped and killed in 2002, and Rabbi Irwin Kula, President of the National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership.

The award is presented by the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, an organisation dedicated to championing religious freedom by respecting individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy.

It has 185,000 members across the US from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition.

Matthew’s murder brought the issue of hate crimes against LGBT people to greater public attention in America.

Then-President Bill Clinton tried to extend federal hate crime legislation to include gay and lesbian people in the aftermath of his death, but ultimately was defeated by Congress.

In May the US House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act with a strong bipartisan vote of 237-180.

The Senate approved the nearly-identical Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment to the Department of Defence Authorisation bill on a voice vote.

President Bush had indicated he would use his veto to block any attempt to extend federal hate crimes laws to LGBT people.

The hate crimes provisions had been attached to a defence spending bill, but was dropped by the Senate because it could not attract enough support.

The Democratic candidate for President in the US elections in November, Barack Obama, has promised to “place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act.”

Earlier this month Mrs Shepard urged all Americans to vote.

“Much work is left to do to make the world an accepting place,” she said.

“The level of ignorance is astounding.

“The continuing belief that what happened to Matt was not a hate crime and the notion that ‘special people shouldn’t have special rights’, is beyond my comprehension.

“The level of ‘hate’ is frightening.

“Our family and the Foundation staff are committed to doing all they can to ensure the message – ‘erase hate’ – is one that is known to the community and its allies as well as those who are trying learn more about the Foundation and the LGBT community at large.

“It is ignorance that ultimately results in hate and that may escalate into physical violence. The only way to combat that ignorance is to educate and tell our stories.”