Matthew Shepard’s parents slam Trump administration’s honouring of their son as ‘nothing more than a photo opp’

Dennis and Judy Shepard, parents of Matthew Shepard

Judy and Dennis Shepard, the parents of gay teenager Matthew Shepard who was brutally murdered 21 years ago, have spoken out against the Trump administration’s support for anti-trans policies.

Referencing the October 8 Supreme Court cases, which together will decide whether it is legal to fire someone for their sexuality or gender identity under federal civil rights law, Judy and Dennis sent a powerful message to the US attorney general, William Barr.

Barr had invited them to speak at the Department of Justice ceremony marking a decade since the federal Hate Crimes Act was enacted – the law that was passed after the murder of Matthew Shepard, and named in memory of their son and James Byrd Jr, a black man who was murdered by white supremacists in 1998.

The hate crimes act expanded the definition of a hate crime to include gender identity, sexual orientation and disability.

But Matthew Shepard’s parents didn’t go to the Department of Justice to speak at the ceremony. Instead, they sent the Trump administration a powerful message.

“We find it interesting and hypocritical that (Barr) would invite us to this event commemorating a hate crime law named after our son and Mr Byrd, while at the same time asking the Supreme Court to allow the legalised firing of transgender employees,” they said, in prepared remarks that were read on their behalf.

Dennis Shepard told USA Today that the decision to send this message was “personally challenging”, as the Shepard’s understood that “it would be nothing more than a photo op for Barr … and, ultimately, the administration” to have a message from them.

But it was important to the couple that they speak out, as Shepard explained: “The larger message is clear. If American citizens do not speak out loud and clear, and object about the obliteration of their civil rights and equal rights, those rights will disappear quickly.”