Submitted by patriceo on October 23, 2009 - 5:51pm
Danville, CA: On an historic day when the U.S. Senate passed the Matthew Shepard James Byrd Hate Crime Bill on to President Obama for a signature, we met with a woman who sacrificed so much to see these new protections for gay and transgender people finally codified into law.
My stomach was tense last night as I sat behind Judy Shepard and watched a group of Athenian School students perform the scene from The Laramie Project in which Judy's son Matt’s body is found hanging from a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, WY after a deadly hate attack. Rakestraw Books brought Judy Shepard to the Athenian School Center for the Performing Arts in Danville, CA to promote her new book, The Meaning of Matthew. The event was a benefit for Not In Our Town.
Judy Shepard’s ringing message to the audience was, "The only way to make change is to tell your story." She emphasized how important it is to show LGBT youth that they are not alone and to show the world that LGBT people are everywhere, and that they are human beings like everyone else. Judy urged people in the LGBT community and their allies to be themselves, and to use their personal narratives to help everyone grow and develop an atmosphere of acceptance.
In the spirit of Judy Shepard’s message, we were so pleased to preview the new Not In Our Town website, which is filled with stories of people across the country fighting hate.
Rakestraw Books owner Michael Barnard asked us to say a few words about Not In Our Town and show a film clip. At first, we considered screening an excerpt from Not In Our Town: Northern California, in which transgender teen Gwen Araujo was killed by a group of local youth in Newark, CA; in a sad coincidence, Newark High School students were preparing a performance of The Laramie Project when the murder occurred. But somehow, that story—with its deep connection to Laramie—seemed too raw to play for a mother who has been through so much.
We hoped that Judy Shepard and the audience in Danville would find a deep connection with another mom in a community across the country who recently experienced a dramatic hate crime. We screened a preview of our next film about how the people of Patchogue, NY are trying to repair their community after the killing of immigrant Marcelo Lucero. Like Judy Shepard, Marcelo Lucero’s mother and brother Joselo are courageously presenting Marcelo's story so that people will begin to address the dangers of hate— and in this case, a rising tide of anti-immigrant violence.
"We have reason to celebrate today. But this legislation is the first step. We have much to do in the ongoing fight against hate," Judy told the crowd.
Thank you, Judy Shepard. You continue to lead all of us in the ongoing battle against hate and bigotry.