Twenty years ago, Matthew Shepard, a bright young college student, died from injuries sustained in a brutal hate crime attack. At the time, Matthew’s death shed light on dangers often faced by the LGBTQ+ community and has since served as a catalyst for progress and change.
While Matthew was hospitalized, his family – mom, Judy, his dad, Dennis, and his brother, Logan – received an outpouring of support, including donations for Matthew’s medical expenses. Incurring the medical costs on their own, they chose instead to use that money to create something to carry on Matthew’s legacy and support the LGBTQ+ community – they established the Matthew Shepard Foundation on Dec. 1, 1998, just six weeks after Matthew’s murder and on what would have been his 21st birthday.
Last week, Levi Strauss & Co. held a series of events aimed at fostering awareness, building understanding and facilitating discussion around diversity and inclusion in the workplace, which included a thoughtful reflection from Judy and Dennis Shepard.
Twenty years after Matthew’s death, his legacy continues to be felt. Dennis and Judy recently donated many of Matthew’s childhood mementos, including letters, photos and possessions such as his Superman cape, to the Smithsonian Museum. And on Oct. 26, Matthew’s remains were received by the Washington National Cathedral in a service presided by Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay man elected a bishop in The Episcopal Church.
Other highlights from Dennis and Judy’s visit to LS&Co.:
On finding inspiration
“The kids at Parkland [High School],” Judy said. “We know the younger generation gets it…They care about climate change and gun violence and things that affect them far more directly than who’s holding whose hand.”
On Matthew’s childhood
“For three years in a row [for Halloween], Matt’s favorite outfit (and he got better and better each year) was Dolly Parton,” Judy shared.
Judy’s longtime Levi’s® love story
“Growing up, I can remember my sister going to the store to buy 501® Levi’s® jeans, getting home and sitting in the bathtub to shrink them to her size…and coming out with blue legs!
“At that time, you had to wear a dress to school, but my life was spent in Levi’s®, thank you very much.”
On translating frustration into action
“You can have hate, but it’s a waste of time and effort,” Judy said. “Just anger does nothing to resolve anything – you take it and you focus it to keep that from happening again to another young person or family or community.”