Matthew Shepard, symbol for gay rights, laid to rest in DC

Mourners hold programs with the image of Matthew Shepard during a "Thanksgiving and Remembrance of Matthew Shepard" service at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. The ashes of Matthew Shepard, whose brutal murder in the 1990s became a rallying cry for the gay rights movement, will be laid to rest in Washington National Cathedral. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — After 20 years without a permanent resting place, the remains of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student whose brutal murder in 1998 has come to symbolize the plight of the LGBTQ community in America, were interred at the Washington National Cathedral.

More than 2,000 people gathered at the Episcopal cathedral Friday (Oct. 26), the second-largest cathedral in the country, to celebrate Shepard’s life, mourn his death and honor his memory.

The service offered a measure of closure for Shepard’s parents who, until now, hadn’t found a spot that seemed suitable or safe enough to rest their child’s remains. It also provided a moment of unity and collective grieving for those in the LGBTQ community, for whom Shepard’s death has for decades represented the pain and discrimination many had experienced themselves. And the setting inside the same sprawling cathedral in the nation’s capital where U.S. presidents are memorialized lent to the weight of the moment as hymns, speeches, choral music and prayers for love, tolerance and equality bounced off the towering columns and sweeping arches, echoing across the nave.

Shepard was an acolyte in his local Episcopalian church, and when Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop consecrated in the Episcopal church suggested the National Cathedral as a fitting resting place for Matthew’s ashes, his family agreed.

“Matt loved the church,” said Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s father. “Matt was blind, just like this beautiful house of worship. He did not see skin color. He did not see religion. He did not see sexual orientation. All he saw was a chance to have another friend. Just like this beautiful home we have here.

“It is so important we now have a home for Matt,” he said. “A home that others can visit. A home that is safe from haters.”

Shepard was found badly beaten and barely breathing, tied to a split-rail fence on a dirt road near Laramie, Wyoming. He’d spent 18 hours there in the near-freezing cold before a cyclist discovered him, at first mistaking him for a scarecrow. He died five days later. Police said his attackers targeted him because he was gay.

Shepard’s death prompted a national reckoning — inspiring marches and protests, vigils and new laws. In October of 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding the federal law to include crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

But Friday’s interment comes at a fraught moment for the LGBTQ community in America. The Trump Administration has taken steps to restrict protections, including trying to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals in the military and rescinding guidance for schools receiving federal funding on how to treat transgender students.

Trump has also installed dozens of conservative judges and his administration, according to an article in the New York Times this week, is drafting language that would limit the definition of gender to only male or female at birth, stripping the transgender community of protection under civil rights law.

Robinson delivered the homily, at times overcome with emotion.

“I have three things I want to say to Matt,” he said through tears. “Gently rest in this place. You are safe now. And Matt, welcome home.”

The undercurrent of his address was political: He implored the audience to “go vote,” and told them simply honoring Shepard’s memory isn’t enough.

He spoke of James Byrd, the African American man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck by three white supremacists and whose name is on the same hate-crime law as Shepard’s.

“Violence comes in many different forms,” Robinson said, “and right now, the transgender community is the target. There are forces about who would erase them from America, deny them the right they have to define themselves. And they need us to stand for them. That’s the kind of transformation today makes possible: that we see the bigger picture.”

Some attendees wiped away tears. Some held hands and comforted each other.
Nicole Murray Ramirez, an LGBTQ activist, traveled from San Diego for the service.

Seeing Shepard put to rest in such a historic space felt cathartic, he said.

“How wonderful in such a historic cathedral, that has been a place of so many memorial celebrations and funerals, that Matthew, a young gay man, deserved and earned that honor and respect from the nation.”

But Ramirez said the fight is far from over, and he worries about the tenor of the national conversation surrounding the LGBTQ community.

“These are difficult times,” he said, “I fear more Matthew Shepards.”

(Juliet Linderman writes for The Associated Press)

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  • Today, there is a lot of overlap between the Make America White Again crowd and the Make America Straight Again crowd. And both have found their messiah in Donald Trump.

  • Your sentence is important, because it is only the tip of the iceberg. The AP story above, just like the NBC Nightly News story this week, did NOT give the slightest clue — at all — that the actual Matthew Shepard story is much more messy & complicated, than the Official Sanitized Iconic Narrative.

    No conservatives on this one. We’re talking about a gay journalist, a Hispanic journalist with some knowledge of the drug-traffic scene in Shepard’s hometown. He found out details that nobody wanted to hear. Of course, that gay journalist paid the price for being honest about Shepard. Here is a pro-gay piece that explains it:

  • thanks for the link floydlee – the Episcopal church wants to turn his “burial” site into a pilgrimage site – another indication of how the Episcopal church is out of contact with reality.
    ““That (Shepard’s) family would choose the cathedral as a safe and sacred place, where his remains will be safe and where people can come as a pilgrimage destination to remember the power (of his life) … and that we could have his memory and his legacy as part of the fabric of our collective witness to the country, is an honor beyond belief,” said Bishop Mariann Budde, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.”
    The lies of the homosexual agenda never end; do they? Thank you for exposing more of them.

  • “The lies of the homosexual agenda never end; do they? Thank you for exposing more of them.”

    The lies, delusions, fantasies, and imaginary truths of the Christian agenda never end, do they? Thank you for exposing more of them in every one of your comments.

  • That one of his killers, McKinney, was not only a homosexual but a sometime sex and drug dealing partner of Shephard should not be swept under the rug, just because it doesn’t fit the saintly narrative.

  • I knew the “God hates Fags!” Evangelicals would be here denigrating Matthew Shepherd. Evangelicals have been celebrating his murder for 20 years.

  • Laramie, WY wasn’t Matt Shepard’s home town. He was born in Casper, WY. He lived much of his life over seas, boarding schooled in Switzerland. He had been living in Denver, CO and then moved to Laramie to attend the University of Wyoming. He had a traumatic experience on a class trip to Morocco the year he graduated from high school, 1995. He was a small guy, only 5’2″ and he was lynched and gang raped by a group of local boys. This affected him deeply, leaving him dealing with depression, anxiety and introversion. He was just pulling his life back together when he started shool in Laramie.

    What is bizarre about your claims, Matt hadn’t even been in Laramie very long. He had a busy class schedule, was involved in several campus organizations, including the LGBTQ group. How did he have the opportunity in that short busy time to become the underworld denizen that you claim that he was, being a meth addict, as well as a dealer?

  • Aaron McKinney had a girlfriend and a new baby girl when he murdered Matt Shepard. His girlfriend plead guilty to trying to assist him in covering up his involvement in the murder. Aaron tried to use a gay panic defense at trial. He has never been suspected of having a same sex relationship since he has been in prison and has denied being gay, bi or ever having a sexual relationship with a guy every time that he has been interviewed about the murder since his incarceration.

  • he was lynched and gang raped….This affected him deeply

    What do you mean by “lynched” here?

  • Given all the progress we’ve made since Stonewall in 1969, it seems more accurate to say that while Evangelicals hate fags, God hates FAGS (Fanatical Anti Gay Syndrome). Maybe that’s why God has chosen to pelt the Bible Belt with tornadoes every year.

  • It is true, I try to inject actual homework & reflection into the conversation. Change of pace, as it were.

  • Well, as gay journalist Jiminez told Nat’l Public Radio, Matt Shepard got seriously into meth in Denver, **prior to** moving to Laramie. A user.

    In Laramie, Shepard rather quickly (perhaps too quickly in some dealers’ opinions), became accepted into the local “buy & sell from each other” dealer fraternity. McKinney and Shepard knew each other, of course.

  • You were convinced that he was gay. When confronted with the facts, you sing a different song. You’re a part of a tiny group of conspiracy theorists.

    He was a straight guy, heavy into drugs as an addict and also a dealer to support his habit.

  • I don’t care if the “journalist” was into beastiality, he made up the facts to fit his conspiracy theory.

    Someone on meth is manic, high, aggitated. Matt was none of those things, he was just the opposite. So much so that the people who were part of his life for years were concerned about his lack of affect, depression and afraid at times that he might be suicidal. He’s been dead 20 years and you idiots still won’t let him lie in peace.

  • Well you guys come up with new terms all the time. I think if anyone goes after his own sex he’s/she’s homosexual…but I am not the LGBTQRSTUV terminologist.

    So I would conclude Shephard and Kinney were homosexual, and at least 3 sources referenced in the wikipedia article agree that McKinney and Shepard were sometime sex partners.

  • Mathew Shephard, remembering (and celebrating?) Sodom and Gomorrah…no honor or respect here.

  • God doesn’t hate homosexuals Richard. He just wants them to want Him more than their sin – like anyone else.

  • But, if your god really existed, he could easily stop the tornadoes that pelt the Bible Belt every year.

  • Sodom and Gomorrah…great myth and holy hypocrite myth-stake:
    Highlights are totally lit:
    *Lot offers his daughters as bait to “save” the “angels” from mortal men.
    *Lot’s wife gets turned to salt for glancing back as they skip town.
    *Lot and daughters celebrate being free of town (and mom) with drunken, incestuous orgy.
    *Alleged lesson: homosexuality “bad” but father-daughter incest “good.”

  • The text of Genesis 19 nowhere approves of the drunken incest of Lot and his daughters. It is actually just one of a number reprehensible actions of the family. The Bible condemns both drunkenness and incest in numerous places.

    Nice try.