“TRINIDAD and Tobago has always been a leader in the Caribbean and you all will continue to be a leader in human rights, which is the stepping stone to equality for everyone,” said Dennis Shepard.
Shepard and his wife, Judy, founders of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, delivered the feature addresses at an open discussion forum on the issue of human rights on Wednesday at Noor Hassanali Lecture Theatre at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus.
The event was moderated by Prof Rhoda Reddock, deputy principal of The UWI, St Augustine.
With the assistance of the United States Embassy, the American couple arrived in Trinidad to preach the message of acceptance and not just tolerance of those who choose an alternative lifestyle, in this case the acceptance of those who wish to live in a gay or lesbian relationship.
The couple’s son, Matthew Shepard, or “Matt” as they called him, was murdered in October 1998 in the city of Laramie in Wyoming, USA, in what was described as a hate crime.
Matthew was 21.
Their son’s death prompted the couple who, after their moment of grief, were determined to prevent others from suffering their son’s fate.
Judy and Dennis Shepard decided to turn their grief into action and they established the Matthew Shepard Foundation to carry out their son’s legacy—social justice, diversity awareness and education and equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender (LGBT) people.
Wednesday’s audience was an attentive one but were caught by surprise when Dennis Shepard chided the word tolerance which is one of Trinidad and Tobago’s watchwords.
He said tolerance was merely one’s “putting up” with something, like a “flu or having to shovel snow outside ... it is something that you tolerate but don’t really like”.
He said, however, acceptance of anything was going beyond merely tolerating it.
“We are not here for a political agenda or gay rights, but human rights because everybody wants the same thing—career, a home and people who love them and to do it all with a smile so at the end of the day it does not matter how someone chooses to live their lives, because we all want the same things,” said Dennis Shepard.
The couple, during a question and answer session, said their son’s death was not only tragic for them but tragic for the two men arrested, tried and subsequently jailed for his murder.
“Everyone lost out in the end ... we did and so did the families of the two men that did this,” said Dennis Shepard.