How Meeting Judy Shepard Changed my Life
Before I told my story I was selfish, easily disconnected from others, and often confrontational. I argued the most with those who cared about me because I needed them to prove they were my friends, that they weren’t using me for me something.
My heart was confused by the pain I was experiencing, but I didn’t allow myself to separate out good from bad. I had a zero tolerance policy, and was quick to “cut you off” if I felt any stress from our relationship, family included.
I was MAD. There was just so much anger inside me and not enough space for it, but I had no one to blame. It was difficult because, even when I looked in the mirror every day I did see beauty, I couldn’t escape what I was called instead: faggot.
I was sick of it. I got sick of being sick of it so I became strong, argued my way every chance I could as assurance that no one was going to make me cry ever again. I felt like it was me against the world, because the world didn’t see the me I saw and there was no one to ask why. It hurt to be me when you feel no one can get over your sexuality, a small portion of who you are overall.
That part of me has faded. Out of all of the experiences since then, one in particular has changed my life forever. I got the strength to tell my story. And I told it without tears: I let go of years of hurt when I was able to watch my life struggles be channeled into creative fuel to overcome the very pain they created. I used my examples of hurt and struggle to give hope and the “I know how you feel” perspective to those who need it.
Matthew Shepard was just 21 years old, from Wyoming, and was a victim of a terrible hate crime.
He was robbed, beaten, and lost his life a few days later as a result.
He was talented, passionate for the arts, and had a loving family who accepted him with support and understanding. After her loss, his mother placed herself front and center, doing all she could to change the world by telling her story and creating the Matthew Shepard Foundation to promote the diversity needed to break the barriers of hate and even educate the bullies (they too need support, their behavior won’t just change overnight).
Mrs. Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew, came to the University of Richmond to give a talk in the fall of 2013. She came to provide a bigger voice to the current support and initiatives for the LGBTQ community here on campus and beyond. It was beyond inspirational to meet her and be able to connect through our understanding of the world.
You could feel the energy in the audience, some there to show support and respect for this dynamic woman and the cause and some to learn how to better accept the cause she represents. Her delivery was relatable, raw, and reflective of the current strides being made on the issues. She gave a talk that only someone who has experienced that hate as a victim could: she told us a story about the sad truth.
Hi, I'm Chaz. I'm a UofR alum and am originally from Connecticut. My life has been a variety of adversities and global experiences that have inspired me to write, work creativity, and mentor delicate populations on the power of telling your story. I love the arts because I believe it changes lives. I am a contributor in the book For Colored Boys, an LGBTQ anthology dedicated to young minority men, and my own online organization, IAMMYLIFE.org, a site dedicated to the use of personal experiences as a guide to embracing the entirety of your being, struggles and all.
While we are all different, there are parts of our identities, our shared experiences, that make us all the same.September 21, 2016
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