After their son was killed, Judy and Dennis Shepard set out to try to ensure people recognize the role hate plays in society, and to ask people to do all they can to erase that hate. They founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation on that principle, and the Foundation continues to open dialogues with a diverse range of people in order to erase hate.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation tries to raise awareness and promote human dignity for everyone by engaging schools, corporations, and individuals in dialogues. These dialogues take many forms; some are presentations, some are interactive seminars, and some are web-based. Ultimately, we try to cross boundaries between straight and gay in order to bring people together.
It’s true there are several very effective gay groups advocating for various issues, but the Foundation has a unique perspective. After Matthew was killed, Judy and Dennis began to campaign tirelessly not just for ‘gay rights’, but for human dignity and acceptance. Over the years, it became clear that the advantage they had was their ability to speak to diverse audiences from their perspective as parents. As the Foundation has grown, we have added staff and board members who share that perspective and can likewise speak to a broad array of people. Because in the end, erasing hate is not a gay issue or a straight issue; it’s a human issue.
We have opened dialogues at countless schools, corporations and communities through our outreach, as well as advocated for political change like the Matthew Shepard Act.
While it’s true that many celebrities and notable personalities have lauded the work of the Foundation, most of our support comes from the grass-roots level. We operate many programs that bring in some revenue, but like all non-profits, we rely on the generosity of a broad group of supporters to keep our doors open. Some years we raise more money than others, but we have never been regularly supported by ‘celebrity money’.
While the Matthew Shepard Foundation is grateful that LGBT- and gender-inclusive hate crimes legislation has finally been enacted at the federal level, the work doesn’t end there. Only when people talk about hate in society and how it affects them or the people they love can we move towards erasing hate. The Foundation has taken a broad-based approach, bringing our unique perspective to corporate boards, school auditoriums, and community groups in an effort to get people to realize the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect. Through our website, we offer tools that people can use in their everyday lives, as well as resources for young people.