Final Rites for Matthew Shepard

A documentary is revisiting the murder of Matthew Shepard, who was killed 25 years ago this month.
A documentary is revisiting the murder of Matthew Shepard, who was killed 25 years ago this month.

Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old college student who died 20 years ago on October 12, days after suffering a brutal homophobic attack from two men in Laramie, Wyoming, will finally be laid to rest at the Washington National Cathedral on October 26.

“We’ve given much thought to Matt’s final resting place, and we found the Washington National Cathedral is an ideal choice, as Matt loved the Episcopal Church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming,” said Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, in a written statement. “For the past 20 years, we have shared Matt’s story with the world. It’s reassuring to know he now will rest in a sacred spot where folks can come to reflect on creating a safer, kinder world.”

Judy Shepard and her husband, Dennis, founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation to confront the issue of anti-LGBTQ and other hate-fueled harassment and violence. A release this week from the foundation noted that there have been 22 known murders of transgender people in the US this year, and that, since 2016, the rate of bias attacks against Latinx and Muslim Americans has risen even faster than against LGBTQ people.

“Due to the environment that the current administration has impressed upon us, our work is more relevant than ever,” Jason Marsden, the foundation’s executive director, said in an email release.

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Byrd was an African-American man murdered in Texas in 1998 by three white supremacists, who dragged his body three miles tied to the back of a truck.

Judy is quoted in published reports explaining that at the time of Matthew’s death, the family was concerned that the notoriety of the murder would attract undue attention and perhaps even vandalism at a gravesite in Wyoming. The Westboro Baptist Church, then headed by Fred Phelps who led a God Hates Fags ministry, picketed Shepard’s 1998 funeral.

Matthew cremated remains will be interred in the cathedral, along with those of approximately 200 other people, including President Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan.

The Shepard family will participate in a service of thanksgiving and remembrance on October 26, which will be officiated by the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson, the first out gay bishop consecrated in the Episcopal Church, and the Right Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington.

The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, said, “Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are. In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place.”

In a release announcing the service and interment, the Shepards noted the cathedral’s long encouragement of the LGBTQ community’s full participation in its congregation.

The service will take place at 10 a.m. on October 26 at the cathedral, 3101 Wisconsin Avenue in Washington.