Matthew Shepard’s remains have been interred at the Washington National Cathedral, more than 20 years after his death.
Shepard, whose murder in 1998 paved the way for LGBT+ hate crime legislation in the US, was laid to rest following a service in front of more than 2,000 people on Friday (October 26).
It took over two decades to find a secure resting place for Shepard, whose parents feared his grave would be vandalised. Around 200 people are interred in the Cathedral, including former US president Woodrow Wilson and deaf-blind activist Helen Keller.
The thanksgiving and remembrance service in Washington DC was led by the retired reverend Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to become a bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Robinson carried an urn containing Shepard’s ashes down the aisle in a candlelit procession, followed by Shepard’s parents Judy and Dennis.
“If you close your eyes and open your hearts, Matt is right here,” Robinson said during the service.
Later in the ceremony, Robinson said he wanted to tell Shepard three things: “Gently rest in this place. You are safe now. Oh yeah, and Matt, welcome home. Amen.”
The service was live-streamed on YouTube by the Washington National Cathedral.
Robinson also highlighted the continued discrimination against LGBT+ people in America, especially the transgender community.
He referenced a leaked Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) memo, published in The New York Times on October 21, which proposed effectively erasing trans people by changing the definition of “sex” as strictly male or female based on “immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”
“Violence takes lots of forms, and right now the transgender community is the target,” he said. “There are forces about who would erase them in America. Deny them the right they have to define themselves.”
Robinson urged the audience to “go vote” at the US midterm elections on November 6.
Shepard’s father, Dennis Shepard, also spoke at the ceremony.
“It is so important we now have a home for Matt,” he said. “A home that others can visit. A home that is safe from haters.”
He added: ““Matt was blind, just like this beautiful house of worship.
“He did not see skin colour. He did not see religion. He did not see sex orientation. All he saw was a chance to have another friend.”
Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, became LGBT+ activists after their son’s death, starting the Matthew Shepard Foundation in 1998 to lobby for hate crime legislation to be extended to include acts against LGBT+ people.
Shepard was beaten, tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming on October 12 1998, at the age of 21.
His death brought national attention to anti-LGBT+ discrimination and eventually led to the 2009 Matthew Shepard Act, which broadened federal hate crime legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
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