Just two weeks ago, at the seventh annual Virgin Holidays Attitude Awards, powered by Jaguar, the Inspiration Award was presented by singer John Grant to Judy and Dennis Shepard.
It was 20 years ago, to that very evening, that their gay son Matthew was abducted, assaulted and left to die on a fence in his hometown of Laramie, Wyoming. He would succumb to his injuries five days later.
It was a killing that would scar America, and Matthew’s name and face became impregnated on the international conscious as a symbol of the evil that man can do in the face of homophobia.
But through their work for the Foundation that would bear Matthew’s name, Judy and Dennis channeled love in the face of hatred to see – ultimately, at the hand of President Barack Obama – federal hate crime law extended to include offences motivated by sexual orientation, gender or disability.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act stands as testament to their extraordinary ability to find good in something so fundamentally evil.
At the heart of our annual Awards ceremony, at London’s Camden Roundhouse before 600 guests in black tie, both Judy and Dennis were a picture of compassion, humility and stoicism – and so when it came to choosing the beneficiary of the evening’s Prize Draw, and a home for the £7,700 raised thanks to the generosity of sponsors Virgin Holidays and Jaguar, it was an easy call.
So last weekend, at the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner in Denver, Colorado, there was a surprise guest.
The Attitude Magazine Foundation’s trustee Tom Tillmon was on hand to gift Judy and Dennis Shepard our $10,000 prize draw proceeds as a small gesture of support in return.
Tom Tillmon said: “It was our privilege to spend time with Judy and Dennis ahead of and during the Attitude Awards, and while it’s obvious the passage of time hasn’t dimmed Matthew’s flame within them, their sheer force of personality takes your breath away.
“To have experienced such hate and respond with such love is so compelling a demonstration of the human spirit that there could only be one destination for the monies donated by our guests in supporting the Prize Draw. The honour of being the conduit for that was all mine.”
You can add your own donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation here