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Murder victim’s parents urge employees to ‘Erase Hate’ at LGBT Pride Month event

Leslie Taylor, left, executive champion of NAVAIR’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Allies Advisory Team, with Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in October 1998. The Shepards spoke as part of NAVAIR’s Pride Month event June 8 on the topic of “Erase Hate.” (U.S. Navy photo)

Leslie Taylor, left, executive champion of NAVAIR’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Allies Advisory Team, with Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in October 1998. The Shepards spoke as part of NAVAIR’s Pride Month event June 8 on the topic of “Erase Hate.” (U.S. Navy photo)

Jun 15, 2017

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Members of NAVAIR’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Allies Advisory Team, which was established in 2016, with Judy Shepard and Dennis Shepard, who spoke as part of NAVAIR’s  Pride Month event June 8. (U.S. Navy photo)

Members of NAVAIR’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Allies Advisory Team, which was established in 2016, with Judy Shepard ...

HEADQUARTERS, NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. — Tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, beaten and bloodied, was left to die alone in the desolate prairie night. His crime? Being gay.

Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s parents, turned their grief into action and established the Matthew Shepard Foundation to carry on his legacy and share a universal message — “Erase Hate” —which they imparted to 385 NAVAIR employees at an event June 8 in celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ+) Pride Month.

“There was a huge amount of ignorance and mythology about who the gay community was, even then,” Judy said. “People in the community are people; the only difference is who they love. Why do you care? It doesn’t affect you in any way whatsoever. Inclusion and diversity are the way the world succeeds.”

The Shepards took turns shedding light into Matthew’s life and their experiences with his coming out.

“I wanted Matt to have kids,” Dennis said, “but then I thought, that was so selfish. What you want first is for your son to be happy. Today, he can have kids and serve in the military.”

For both parents, supporting Matthew was imperative.

“How do you throw away your child? How do you throw away any children?” Dennis asked. “We are a very rich country, but our greatest natural treasure is our children. Without our children, this is a third-rate country. If we don’t give them the chance to succeed or fail, if we don’t support them, we are absolutely nothing.”

“Just get over it,” Judy advised. “It’s who your kids are. You’re going to lose them if you don’t embrace and try to learn and accept who they are. It’s not about you; it’s about them and their survival. If you try to suffocate who they are, you will lose them.”

Matthew was a student at the University of Wyoming, a political activist who spoke several languages, when he was murdered. While at a local tavern, Matthew accepted a ride from two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who have since said their motivation was to rob him.

After befriending Matthew, McKinney and Henderson took him outside Laramie and beat him in the cab of their truck with fists and the butt of a gun. A mountain bike rider later found Matthew tied to a fence, so badly beaten he thought Matthew was a scarecrow. He died six days later, having never regained consciousness.

Matthew’s death became press fodder for a while, due in part to the remote location and brutality of the crime, Judy said.

“There are people who are genuinely taught some people are less than them,” she said, explaining her foundation seeks to fight for the causes Matthew championed during his life: social justice, diversity awareness and education, and LGBT equality. “We will win, because we are right. This is about humankind, and we will prevail.”

Leslie Taylor, an executive champion of NAVAIR’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Allies (LGBTQ+A) Advisory Team, echoed Judy’s sentiments, saying the values the Matthew Shepard Foundation touts are the same ones NAVAIR tries to instill in its workplace.

“These values are core to NAVAIR throughout the year, not just in June. Let’s make these values as a call to action,” she said.

LGBT Pride Month is celebrated in June each year to commemorate the Stonewall uprising, which occurred on June 28, 1969, in response to New York City police raids on gay bars in Manhattan’s West Village.

The Department of Defense released a memorandum to recognize Pride Month.

“The memo challenges all of us to celebrate the diversity of the total force and rededicate ourselves to equality, dignity and respect for all,” said Rear Adm.  Shane Gahagan, who is also an executive champion of the LGBTQ+A Advisory Team. “We need talent to win the fight. There’s no room for harassment, intolerance or bigotry.”


Things Not to Say to LGBT People

  • “Wow. I never would have guessed that you’re [gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender].”
  • “Is one of you the husband and one the wife? I don’t get it.”
  • To a transgender person: “What’s your real name? What did you used to look like?”
  • “Your lifestyle is your business. We don’t need to talk about it here.”
  • “It’s too bad you’re gay.”
  • “I have a friend who’s [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] whom you should meet.”
Source: DiversityInc

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Rear Adm.  Shane Gahagan, an executive champion of NAVAIR’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Allies Advisory Team, challenges employees to rededicate themselves to equality, dignity and respect for all at a national Pride Month event June 8. “We need talent to win the fight. There’s no room for harassment, intolerance or bigotry,” he said. (U.S. Navy photo)

Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan, an executive champion of NAVAIR’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Allies Advisory Team, challenge ...

“Help us ensure we have an environment where all employees can fully contribute, so we can produce great products and services for our Navy,” Jim Meade, an executive champion of NAVAIR’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Allies Advisory Team, told approximately 385 employees at NAVAIR’s Pride Month event June 8. (U.S. Navy photo)

“Help us ensure we have an environment where all employees can fully contribute, so we can produce great products and services for our Navy,” Jim Mead ...

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2 Comments, Please review our Feedback Guidelines.


Lisa Kove said

Thank you NAVAIR for hosting this wonderful and thoughtful event!. Please have more like this constantly.


August 9, 2017 at 11:25:20 AM EDT

Meesha Davis said

Great, well-written article and recap of the powerful event. Thanks!


July 10, 2017 at 1:15:32 PM EDT


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