Twenty years after his death, a new resting place has been found for Matthew Shepard.
His family announced on Thursday that his ashes would be interred at the Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital on Oct. 26, following a memorial service. Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s father, told The New York Times that he had considered spreading his son’s ashes at various locations in his native Wyoming before deciding on the cathedral, which he called a “perfect, appropriate place.”
“We are, as a family, happy and relieved that we now have a final home for Matthew, a place that he himself would love,” he said. “It’s a place where there’s an actual chance for others to sit and reflect about Matthew, and about themselves, and about their friends.”
Judy Shepard said her son “loved the Episcopal Church,” the denomination that had the Cathedral built. In a statement, she added, “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 Shepards had their son cremated after he was killed in Wyoming in a case that attracted worldwide attention.
Judy Shepard said the family didn’t want to bury Matthew in Wyoming where the site could become “a point of pilgrimage that may be a nuisance to other families in a cemetery. We didn’t want to open up the option for vandalism. So we had him cremated and held onto the urn until we figured out the proper thing to do.”
On Oct. 12, 1998, the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student died in a Colorado hospital six days after he was the victim of an anti-LGBTQ hate crime. He had been robbed by two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who beat him and tied him to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming.
Shepard’s death came to be embraced by activists as a turning point in the LGBTQ rights movement, inspiring books, plays and films.
In 2009, then-President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding the 1969 U.S. federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s sexuality and gender identity.
Among those to praise the news that Matthew’s ashes will be interred at the Cathedral was Tyler Clementi Foundation co-founder Jane Clementi. Her son, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide in 2010 after a roommate broadcast images of him kissing another man online.
“It is heartening to see the Christian community at [the] Cathedral embrace the Shepard family in this way,” she said in an email statement. “It is our hope, here at the foundation, that more faith communities will affirm the lives of LGBTQ people and be a place where they feel welcome.”
Echoing those sentiments was playwright and director David Drake, who has been working on a new production of “The Laramie Project,” Moisés Kaufman’s 2000 play inspired by the public reaction to Shepard’s death. The production began a three-week run Thursday in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
“It is our hope that people now, and generations to come, will be able
to visit him, and meditate on Matthew’s indelible spirit to learn from this
horrific hate crime that took the life of a 21-year old man simply because he was gay,” Drake told HuffPost in an email.
A nationally televised funeral service for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was held at the Cathedral last month. The more than 200 historic figures buried there include President Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and U.S. Navy Admiral George Dewey.