October 29, 2018
Matthew Shepard’s murder in Wyoming happened 20 years ago, and only now did his family feel it safe to have his remains interred. His death shocked the nation and began a movement in support of hate crimes legislation.
The remains of Matthew Shepard, whose death became an important symbol in the fight against homophobia — and whose name is on a key U.S. hate-crime law — were interred at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on October 26.
Shepard's parents say they're "proud and relieved to have a final resting place for Matthew's ashes." "This is incredibly meaningful for our family and for everyone who has known him," Judy and Dennis Shepard said. "We'd been looking for just the right place to finally put Matt to rest, and we think this is the perfect fit and the perfect time."
News of Shepard's interment comes 20 years after he was tied up, savagely attacked and left for dead in October 1998. At the time, he was a 21-year-old college student in Laramie, Wyoming. His brutal murder attracted intense media coverage and galvanized support for laws protecting rights of LGBTQ Americans. The case also left a major impact on Capitol Hill, where the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed under President Obama in 2009. James Byrd, whose name joined Shepard's in the bill's title, was an African-American man who was killed the same year as Shepard and was dragged behind a pickup truck by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas.
With the support of the Plymouth Church UCC Council and staff, I had the honor of representing Plymouth Church UCC and organizing a UCC presence with other clergy from across the nation to stand in solidarity with all those whose voices were never heard in their experience and hate and those who lost their lives.
The experience moved me beyond words as we shared a service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving where his parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard and their other son and daughter, Logan and Marlow, graciously allowed us to be there. Matt’s father said, “Matt was blind, just like this beautiful house of worship. He did not see skin color, religion, sexual orientation. All he saw was the chance to have another friend.” It’s so important that we now have a home for Matt, a home where others can visit, a home safe from haters, a home he loved dearly.
In his opening greetings, Bishop Gene Robinson shared, "Let's be honest, churches and synagogues and mosques have been the source of our greatest pain as LGBTQ people. For Matthew to come back to church ... is a remarkable step forward. It's the cathedral saying some churches are different. Some churches have been on this journey with you, and we will not only welcome you, we will celebrate you."
"There will be young people from all across the country, having tours here and being educated here," said Bishop Mariann Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. "When they pass by, they will see a plaque in his honor. They will see this is a church that learned from the example of violence that we need to stand and be counted as among those who work for justice and the full embrace of all God's children."
Thank you for this incredible, life-changing and life-giving experience and honor to represent you.
Yours in grace and hope. –Rev. Steven Davis, Executive Minister