Judy Shepard to be honoured by University of Wyoming

Matthew Shepard's parents Dennis Shepard and Judy Shepard with President Barack Obama in 2009

Judy Shepard, mother of murdered gay man Matthew Shepard, is set to be honoured by the University of Wyoming.

Matthew Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming in 1998 when he was beaten, tortured, and left to die by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson near Laramie, Wyoming.

More than 20 years later, the same university will honour his mother, Judy Shepard, for her more than two decades fighting for justice and LGBT+ equality.

Judy Shepard has spent decades fighting for acceptance

As the President of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Judy Shepard has kept her son’s memory alive through a campaign for acceptance and legal equality, speaking at more than 900 events in 25 countries.

At the time of her son’s murder, no hate crime charge could be brought as state law did not ban hate crimes based on sexual orientation.

Matthew Shepard's death sparked changes to hate crime laws.

Matthew Shepard’s death sparked changes to hate crime laws. (Matthew Shepard Foundation)

But after a decade of campaigning from the Matthew Shepard Foundation, in 2009 President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act—named jointly in honour of Shepard and an African-American murdered by white supremacists—which added federal-level hate crime protections for crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Under the law, people who commit hate crimes anywhere in the US can face a federal charge, even if their state has no hate crime law.

Judy Shepard praised for ‘extraordinary’ battle for equality

The university will give Judy Shepard its highest award, the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, in a ceremony on May 18.

Philip Dubois, who was president of the University of Wyoming at the time of the Matthew Shepard murder, said: “What Judy has done in the 20 years since her world was forever changed is nothing short of extraordinary.

“Rather than allowing her grief and (others’) hate to consume her, she drew strength from it and emerged as a true modern-day civil rights leader.

“Her tireless work on behalf of the LGBTQ community has brought about important change and has inspired and encouraged countless individuals.”

Retired US District Judge William Downes said: “Judy Shepard never sought notoriety.

“Yet, for 20 years—in loving memory of Matthew—she has carried on her quest for justice with quiet dignity, humility and love.

“Our country, Wyoming and humanity are the beneficiaries of her selfless service.”

Jim Osborn, the university’s Title IX coordinator, said: “Judy’s contributions to the lives of the people of Wyoming, especially our youth, are difficult to measure.

“Nonetheless, she has brought a message of hope, determination, acceptance and love to countless people in Wyoming and beyond that has changed lives and made the world a better place.”

In 2018, Matthew Shepard’s remains were interred at Washington National Cathedral.