20 years after his murder, Matthew Shepard has been laid to rest.
A crowd of more than 2,000 people packed in to Washington National Cathedral this week for a service presided over by Bishop Gene Robinson, the first out-gay bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church. Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy, also attended to oversee their son’s internment.
Earlier this month, Judy Shepard announced that she and Dennis had selected Washington National Cathedral as Matt’s final resting place. The memorial marked a celebration of Shepard’s life impossible at the time of his death.
Shepard’s violent attack by two assailants in a hate crime and his subsequent death from his injuries became a cause celebre’ in the media, and attracted the attention of anti-gay protesters like the Westboro Baptist Church. Dennis Shepard even had to wear a bullet proof vest to his son’s funeral.
The tension of 20 years ago evoked a stark contrast with today’s memorial, where no protesters even bothered to show up. Instead, flocks of LGBTQ people who see Shepard as something of a community martyr packed into the cathedral pews to pay homage.
24-year-old Abigail Mocettini was scarcely old enough at the time of Shepard’s death to even notice. Still, she attended the memorial to pay her respects.
“As we were coming out, this affected our parents and informed their fears,” she told The Washington Post. “Acknowledging queer history is a thing that needs to be respected. Once the old guard gets older, people forget how we got to rainbow flags in Dupont.”
Robinson, in his sermon, emphasized the progress made by the LGBTQ community in the years since Shepard’s death. He also highlighted recent attacks by the Trump White House on queer people, and encouraged those in attendance to honor Matt with two simple words: “go vote.”