By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The mother of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student who was tortured and murdered in Wyoming in 1998 because he was gay, was the keynote speaker today at a conference on hate crimes at the National Constitution Center.
Shepard’s murder helped create federal hate crime legislation, but his mother notes that more works needs to be done, especially here in Pennsylvania.
“Matt is no longer with us because two men learned — they learned — that it was okay to hate,” Judy Shepard said today.
For 14 years, Shepard has been on a crusade to transform the day her son was pistol-whipped, chained to a fence, and left to die into one of positive change.
And in 2009, she breathed a sigh of relief when President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard Act, which expanded federal hate-crime protections to include gender, sexual orientation, and disability.
But 33 states, including Pennsylvania, do not provide such protections. Shepard says a big part of the problem is that hate crimes, especially in the LGBT community, are underreported.
“If there are no numbers, there is no problem. I was laughing to myself earlier this morning when I saw that Pennsylvania had only 57 reported hate crimes — 57! There are more in places where 600,000 people live,” she said.
Shepard says communities must make it safe for victims to come forward by promoting understanding, allowing anonymity, and providing protection from retaliation.