Matthew Shepard Honored With Plaque At Washington National Cathedral

The tribute to the Wyoming student's legacy aims to serve as "a source of strength" for the LGBTQ community.

The National Cathedral in Washington paid tribute to Matthew Shepard this week with the installation of a plaque honoring the legacy of the slain gay student. 

The plaque was unveiled Tuesday at a memorial service attended by Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis. It is inscribed with a quote attributed to Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and a close friend of the Shepard family.

“Matt, rest gently in this place,” it reads. “You are home safe now.”

Last year, Shepard’s ashes were interred at the Episcopal cathedral, known for its inclusive views of the LGBTQ community.  

In a news release, Judy Shepard praised the cathedral’s decision to commemorate her son, who “loved the Episcopal church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming.”

“For the past 20 years, we have shared Matt’s story with the world,” she said. “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.”

A statement announcing Tuesday’s ceremony on the cathedral’s website noted that the plaque was “elevated by a grassroots, crowd-funded campaign,” and is intended to honor not only Shepard but also “serve as a source of strength in the continued journey for LGBTQ+ equality.” 

The ceremony came just two days after what would have been Shepard’s 43rd birthday, and weeks after the 21st anniversary of his death. 

On Oct. 12, 1998, Shepard died in a Colorado hospital six days after he was the victim of an anti-LGBTQ hate crime in neighboring Wyoming. 

A student at the University of Wyoming, the 21-year-old was beaten, robbed and left tied to a fence in Laramie by two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. Both are serving life sentences.

Shepard’s death over the years has been embraced by activists as a turning point in the LGBTQ rights movement. His legacy has lived on in the form of books, stage 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. 

Dennis and Judy Shepard did not attend a Justice Department event last month marking the 10th anniversary of the act becoming law, citing the anti-LGBTQ policies of President Donald Trump’s administration.  

Speaking to the Daily Beast in an interview published Nov. 30, Dennis Shepard said having his son laid to rest in the cathedral “gives notice to all those young people, who have been denigrated, kicked out of their homes, and discriminated against, that there is one place they can go to to be safe, welcomed, and accepted.”

“That’s so important these days with everything that is happening — not just to LGBTQ people, but all marginalized people, whether it’s race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity,” he added.