Judy and Dennis Shepard Speak Up for LGBT Rights in Europe

Sitting down to dinner to wrap up two jam-packed days of outreach by Judy and Dennis Shepard in Poland to parents of LGBT individuals, non-governmental organizations, parliamentarians, TV reporters, and others, I was struck by how universally their story resonates even thousands of miles from the United States.

As co-founders of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Judy and Dennis have worked tirelessly to expand LGBT rights and protections through the legal system, while changing hearts and minds by telling the tragic story of their son's murder due to hate and intolerance.

The State Department is proud to be sponsoring the Shepards on a five-country, two week-plus European outreach trip. The Shepards' tour includes stops in Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, and Germany.

The first leg of the Shepards' trip took place in Warsaw, Poland, where I serve as Deputy Cultural Attache, and was co-sponsored by the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH, in Polish) -- one of Poland's leading LGBT organizations.

On day one, the Shepards met with KPH's "Mothers' Group," a social support network for the mothers of LGBT children. KPH is creating a documentary about the mothers' group, which will be part of a larger social awareness campaign to reach out to families of Polish LGBT persons. The filmmakers were on hand for the Shepards' meeting, where the parents swapped stories and shared experiences. Later that afternoon, the Shepards spoke to a crowd of 50 students and activists at the Stefan Batory Foundation.

Day one concluded with a reception at the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Poland Lee A. Feinstein. More than 100 people -- including parliamentarians, several activists, cultural figures, and journalists -- gathered to meet the Shepards. In a surprise ceremony that was captured by the documentary filmmakers, Ambassador Feinstein and the Shepards handed out certificates of appreciation to the mothers in KPH's Mothers' Group.

The Shepards kept up their busy pace on their second day in Warsaw. They gave half a dozen media interviews, including a thirteen-minute spot on "Dzień Dobry TVN," one of Poland's most popular morning television programs. But the main attraction of the day was a Hate Crimes Conference in the Polish Parliament, sponsored by Parliamentarian Robert Biedroń, the only openly gay man in the Polish Parliament. To conclude their final day, and a successful swing through Poland, I was very pleased to join the Shepards for a dinner with the board of the Campaign Against Homophobia.

Next up for the Shepards: bringing their message of tolerance, LGBT rights, and parental activation to thousands more beyond Poland, and across central Europe. As a State Department officer, I am very pleased to help reinforce Secretary Clinton's message about human rights by supporting the Shepards' outreach to European audiences.



District Of Columbia, USA
September 7, 2012

Kyle H. in Washington, D.C. writes:

It pleases me immensely to read this post. As a youth, I traveled to Eastern Europe, specifically Poland. While there I met a young lesbian teenager who shared with me the hardships of being gay in Eastern Europe. As Secretary Clinton said in her Human Rights Day speech last year, America too has a far from perfect record on LGBT rights, however, this proactive tour displays America's efforts to improve both LGBT rights at home and abroad. It's stories such as this that fill me with pride. We have long journey ahead of us until every country recognizes and respects their LGBT citizens. But with continued support of human rights from the State Department, the day will come.

Judy Shepard Embraces Leader of a Group of Polish Mothers of LGBT Children in Warsaw
Posted by Frankie Sturm
September 6, 2012


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