“It was a story that galvanized hearts beyond bias.”
That quote is perhaps the best description of the short life and brutal murder, which is the story of Matthew Shepard. In October 1998, two young men viciously beat and robbed twenty-one year old Shepard, tied him to a fence and left him to die, which he subsequently did five days later in a Colorado hospital. The motivation for the attack was established to be that Matthew Shepard was Gay. The news shined an international spotlight on the reality of hate crimes based on sexual orientation and incited protests and candlelight vigils nationwide. Furthermore, this act of violence prompted parents Judy and Dennis Shepard to join the likes of John Walsh, Candy Lightner & Cindy Lamb in turning their personal tragedy into a catalyst for education and social change; thus The Matthew Shepard Foundation was born.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation is dedicated to education and understanding of the Gay, Lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender individuals, with a special emphasis on young people. The Matthew Shepard Foundation Honors is an awards ceremony to honor those individuals who have aided in this mission through community service and those who champion steps towards legislation that provide special protections against hate crimes for women, disabled and the GLBT community.
Peter Paige ( Queer as Folk) and Alison Sweeney ( Days of Our Lives) were the hosts for the gala event. What one might expect to be a rather somber evening was quite light-hearted. Lily Tomlin was the first presenter and began to express what she would like to say and do to the protesters who picketed the event just outside the entrance to the Wiltern Theater. But her mood quickly changed, reminding the audience that this was not an evening, nor an organization about hate. Ms Tomlin reminded us that the theme of the evening and the mission of the Matthew Shepard Foundation: “hope and understanding, compassion and acceptance.”
Lizz Wright was the first performer of the evening who delivered an astounding, pitch perfect, a cappella rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”. Ms. Tomlin presented the first “Making a Difference Award” to Congressman John Lewis, also known as “The Conscience of the Congress”. Mr. Lewis has seen his share of brutality and injustice being at the heart of the Civil Rights fight along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. His fiery comments were simple yet passionate. “Equal rights for every citizen means just that, every citizen.” The struggle African Americans faced some fifty years ago is not so different from the one the GLBT community is faced with now. It only makes sense "to get in the mix" and try to help fix this wrong as well.
T.R. Knight ( Grey’s Anatomy) presented the next set of awards for the evening to two members of the two Senators, and the two Congresspersons who lead the campaign in both the House of Representatives and Senate for the passage of the The Matthew Shepard Act / Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Senators Edward Kennedy and Gordon Smith were honored along side Congresspersons Tammy Baldwin & Christopher Shays, preceded by “What Matters”, a bittersweet lullaby inspired by Matthew Shepard and performed by recording artist Randi Driscoll, accompanied by saxophonist Dave Koz.
Senator Smith remarked about watching the televised candlelight vigils that took place on Washington DC. It struck him that he saw no one from his Republican party was among them. And that is when he sought out Senator Kennedy, because there are no party lines to cross when it comes to human rights.
The evening got quite a kick in the pants when Chad Allen ( Save Me) and Judith Light ( Ugly Betty) came out to present the next “Making a Difference Award" to Terry DeCrescenzo & GLASS ( Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services). GLASS is the first "milieu-based residential treatment program for gay and lesbian teens in the country." GLASS kids cheered from the balcony as two of their own, flipped and popped, spun and flew through an amazing hip hop dance number in tribute to Ms. DeCrescenzo. Aside from expressing her gratitude to Judy Shepard for her leadership and courage, she left the audience with the words of Paul Monette: “Go without hate, but not without rage. Heal the world.” Spoken like a true educator.
Jennifer Beals ( The L Word) & Lisa Marie Presley presented the final award of the evening to sisters Cyndi & Elen Lauper. The Lauper sisters were honored for being advocated for the rights of the GLBT community, throughout the years as well as during the True Colors Equality for All Tour during the summer of 2007. The singer was treated to a surprise performance of her hit “True Colors”, sung by her friend, vocalist Angela McCluskey. Cyndi Lauper’s remarks were perhaps the most encouraging one of the night. She said that she believed that "most Americans are fair-minded, they just need to know what’s going on."
I hope you’re right.
Congratulations to the Matthew Shepard Foundation for a lovely evening of events, and to the honorees for being the latest trailblazers who have taken up the mission of erasing the hate by embracing diversity.
Photos: James Crimy