By: Janie Rosman
With determination and conviction, Judy Shepard stood before a packed auditorium to talk about the hate that lead to her son’s death and the acceptance that could have saved him.
“We need more acceptance now,” Shepard remarked. “We need to move away from tolerance and towards acceptance because you don’t tolerate people, you accept them. You tolerate a bad hair day.”
Shepard, whose 21-year-old son was brutally murdered in a hate crime because of his sexual orientation, came to Pelham to address faculty, residents and students in grade 8 through 12. The lecture was organized in conjunction with the Ingalls Seminar, a program established in the 1980s.
“Pelham wants students to be comfortable with who they are and how they are maturing,” said PMHS history teacher Frank Oregi, Ingalls Committee member.
Wednesday’s program, “From Tolerance to Acceptance – What Do We Do With Our Differences?” opened with a video about Shepard’s son, Matthew, 21, and James Byrd Jr., 49, both vibrant and full of life – and both victims of hate crimes.
Shepard spoke about hate, fear, compassion, education, sexual orientation and what we can do – as individuals and as a community – to make this world a more accepting place for everyone.
After introducing herself with a bit of humor, Shepard read the victim impact statement she gave at the trial of the two men who killed her son.
“He was my son, my first-born, and more – he was my friend,” she said with composure. “We kissed his face, stroked his arms, held his hands, we talked to him in the hospital.”
She paused. “How could anyone feel so threatened by this tender, sweet child that they could do this to him?” she asked.