Judy Shepard is set to be honored by the University of Wyoming more than 20 years after her son, Matthew, was beaten, tortured and left to die.
On 7 October 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was found tied to a fence post, almost crucifixion-style, in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming.
Bleeding, half-frozen and shoeless, the University of Wyoming student had been left to die after being beaten, tortured and repeatedly whipped around his head with a gun wielded by two men he met in a local bar then hitched a ride with.
Five days later, Matthew succumbed to his terrible injuries in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.
The shocking killing is widely regarded as one of the most horrific anti-gay hate crimes in US history, with blond-haired, blue-eyed Matthew becoming the human symbol for acts of violence against the LGBT+ community.
Two months after Matt’s death — on his birthday, 1 December — his parents Judy and Dennis formed The Matthew Shepard Foundation.
Funds were plunged into education programmes to teach the next generation about embracing difference and diversity, not to mention the creation of an online platform called Matthew’s Place, a safe space for LGBT+ youth.
The Shepard’s didn’t stop there and, in October 2009, after 11 long years of lobbying, they joined then president Barack Obama for the passing of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
And now, Judy – who was honoured with an Attitude Award last year – is set to be honored by the University where her son attended due to her tireless work on behalf of the LGBTQ community.
Philip Dubois, who was president of the University of Wyoming at the time of the Matthew’s 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.”