Black Tie taps Judy Shepard for Birch Award

Posted on 26 Mar 2009 at 7:13pm
By Tammye Nash Senior Editor

Gay murder victim’s mother has become tireless LGBT advocate


Judy Shepard

Officials with the Dallas-Fort Worth Black Tie Dinner have announced that activist Judy Shepard will be on hand at this year’s dinner, set for Oct. 3, to receive the 2009 Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.

The announcement came Thursday night, March 26, during a Black Tie Dinner reception at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.

Shepard is the mother of Matthew Shepard, the gay man whose 1998 murder made headlines around the world and focused attention on the issue of anti-gay violence.

Matthew Shepard was 21 and a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie when he was kidnapped, robbed, tortured and beaten nearly to death by two young men he met at an area bar.

Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney offered Matthew Shepard a ride, then drove him into the countryside where they robbed and beat him. They tied him, unconscious and barely alive, to a fence and left him there to die.

Matthew Shepard was discovered 18 hours later by a passing bicyclist. He never regained consciousness and died five days later, on Oct. 12.

In court, Henderson and McKinney claimed they had only intended to rob their victim, not kill him, and that they only panicked and lost control when Matthew Shepard made a pass at them.

Henderson eventually pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence. McKinney was found guilty but escaped the death penalty when Judy Shepard and her husband, Dennis, asked that he not be executed. He is now serving two consecutive life sentences.

Matthew Shepard’s murder made him into a symbol for the LGBT community’s ongoing fight against hate crimes and for the passage of a comprehensive federal hate crimes law. The hate crimes law under consideration in Congress is named in his honor.

His murder, in turn, transformed his parents, and especially his mother, into activists. The two decided to turn their grief into action and have since established the Matthew Shepard Foundation, dedicated not only to combating hate-based violence, but also to the causes their son championed: social justice, diversity awareness and education and LGBT equality.

Black Tie officials said this week that Shepard’s work makes her the embodiment of the theme for the 2009 fundraising dinner: "Courage. Hope. Inspiration."

"Judy’s distinction of being one of the most respected leaders in this country’s civil rights movement clearly makes her a worthy recipient of this award," said Laurie Foley, Black Tie Dinner co-chair.

Dinner Co-chair Ron Guillard added, "Judy Shepard … has successfully drawn the nation’s attention toward and championed the passage of hate crimes legislation that is inclusive of the LGBT community, as well as provided programs and much needed support for LGBTQ youth. For this, we commend her."

The Birch Award, presented each year at the Black Tie Dinner to someone who has made a significant impact nationally on the fight for LGBT equality, is named in honor of former Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. The 2008 winner was Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

Black Tie Dinner also presents the Raymond Kuchling Award each year to someone who has had a significant impact locally on LGBT equality.

Black Tie officials announced the names of 19 local beneficiaries last week for 2009.

The 2009 dinner will be held at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel, and individual tickets are $300. Sponsorships are also available.

For more information, go online to www.BlackTie.org or call 972-733-9200.

E-mail nash@dallasvoice.com

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