You won’t have to look too hard to find Judy and Dennis Shepard at Saturday’s Capital Pride Parade in D.C.: As grand marshals of the parade, they’ll be the ones on the route “sitting in a car and trying not to melt from the heat,” Judy says. As founders of the Matthew Shepard Foundation — named for their son, who was killed in 1998 in Laramie, Wyo. — the couple have been tireless LGBT activists, focusing on anti-discrimination measures. The foundation was particularly instrumental in the 2009 passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which broadened the definition of a hate crime. For Judy Shepard, participating in an event like Pride isn’t just a celebration; it’s an extension of the activism she’s so closely involved in.
So what exactly does marshaling entail?
Sitting in a car! Lots of press, pictures and waving, the royal wave. I’ve been practicing.
What does it mean to you to be marshaling the Pride parade?
As allies, as not really members of the community, being able to participate in really fabulous, affirming events like Pride — it helps us feel like we’re still a part of Matt’s community, part of his life. It’s great to see progress, right? It’s great to see how many folks, not just members of the community but allies, as well, turn out to celebrate the progress. But also I hope everybody understands there’s still a lot of work to do, and this should be the focus of where we are.
You’ve been participating in Pride celebrations for 20 years — how would you describe the way they’ve changed?
There [are] a lot more families in it now, which I love. Also, the press treats it differently. I can remember at the beginning, Pride was all about the feather boas in the front, and nothing about the work or the families in the back. This is a way to express everything about yourself in the most positive way. I love that so many allies and friends and co-workers are so positive on the sidelines.
Is there anything that makes this year’s Pride particularly important?
Not only Pride events, but every event [during] this administration feels like a demonstration against current administration policies. Not just the gay community, but all the marginalized folks are just being erased and harassed and victimized. It makes it all the more important to be visible, and for supporters to be visible as well. So yes, this one is critically important. We need to constantly remind ourselves how important it is to stick together.