Matthew Shepard died in 1998 after one of the most notorious and brutal anti-gay crimes in the US. Two decades later, he is being honored through a memorial plaque installed at the Washington National Cathedral.
The violent end to Matthew’s short life ignited years of activism and advocacy that resulted in the passage in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The law criminalizes violent acts committed against people because of their religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
The Washington National Cathedral is well known for its historic inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church, as it considers LGBTQ equality “one of the great civil rights issues of the church in the 21st century”, according to its website. On Monday, the cathedral and the Matthew Shepard Foundation held a ceremony to dedicate the Matthew Shepard Memorial Plaque to honor his legacy. The plaque is mounted opposite Helen Keller’s plaque in the cathedral’s Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea, a place where members of the public may go to honor him. The plaque reads:
“Matt, rest gently in this place. You are home safe now. Peace be with you and all who visit here.” The inscription is also be presented in braille, something Matthew’s mother insisted upon as she felt strongly that it should be accessible to blind visitors who come to pay their respects.
“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,” his mother Judy Shepard said in a news release. “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.”
The market was funded by donors worldwide who contributed to the GoFundMe campaign organized by the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the cathedral. The ceremony was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies as a pat of a five-year gift that underwrites the cost of five annual programs to mark Shephard’s legacy and take stock of the state of minority rights in the country.