Judy Shepard speaks out against hate crimes


The Peer Counselor Team addresses student body during school wide assembly, Jan. 17. Counselors teamed up with the Anti-Defamation League along with key speaker Judy Shepard who spoke about her son Matthew's murder to raise awareness about the LGBT community (Courtesy of Jaron Flynn).

Oak Park High School hosted an assembly during which Judy Shepard, an LGBTQ+ rights activist, spoke out Jan. 17 against the murder of her son, Matthew Shepard.

Matthew Shepard, 21, was tied to a fence post and brutally attacked due to his sexuality, leading to his death Oct. 12, 1998.

To spread awareness of her family’s story and hate crimes, Shepard and her husband founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation two months after their son’s death.

“My husband and I would go crazy if we couldn’t do something to stop [hate crimes] from happening,” Shepard said. “Intellectually, we know this will still go on, but if we can educate someone, it was worth it.”

Advanced Peer Counselors hosted Shepard with the help of the Anti-Defamation League, which sponsored the school’s Awareness Week.

“We have a strong relationship with the Anti-Defamation League, and we would have never been able to bring her without the help of the ADL because she’s five times our budget,” Peer Counseling advisor Janet Svoboda said.

My job is to remind people that they have their voice, they should use their voice, and they should never stop using it,”

— Judy Shepard

The ADL, originally founded to stop the discrimination of Jewish people and secure equal rights for everyone, had brought Shepard to speak at University of California, Santa Barbara, stopping at Oak Park High School first.

When speaking at both assemblies, Shepard advised students to speak out against hate in society.

“My job is to remind people that they have their voice, they should use their voice, and they should never stop using it,” Shepard said.

According to senior Rebecca Grinberg, Shepard’s call-to-action was enlightening.

“We’re so enclosed in our bubble that we don’t know what goes on,” Grinberg said. “She definitely impacted me because it showed me that these things really do happen and I need to be aware in the future.”

Shepard was already aware of Oak Park High School’s zero-tolerance policy toward hate acts, according to student counselor and Advanced Peer Counselor advisor Julie Heeney.

“She knew that we have people who are compassionate in their hearts, but now she wants them to take that next step and make a difference,” Heeney said.

Shepard emphasized that to make a difference in society, people have to vote in the future elections.

“I want people to actually vote. Don’t vote for the incumbent just because he’s the incumbent; educate yourself about who’s running,” Shepard said. “People have to get involved in the political system, or things are never going to change.”