Is Judy Shepard Making Too Much Money Off Her Slain Son Matthew?

Michael Petrelis, the one-man San Francisco shameless critic factory, certainly thinks so! “As with practically every other top honcho at a Gay Inc group, Judy’s salary at the foundation currently is a robust six-figures. In 2007 her pay was $85,025, for 2008 it was $102,813, and the 2009 IRS 990 tax filing for her nonprofit is listed at $127,918. One way Matthew Shepard Inc keeps itself in business is through Judy collecting between $10,000 – $20,000 for speaking engagements. … Should you want to throw money away, you could attend an upcoming Elton John concert and part of the ticket price will go to the foundation. I’d like Matthew Shepard Inc to go on hiatus for at least a decade. There’s are enough readings and stagings of The Laramie Project, sales of the movie version and the latest in crappy merchandise, thousands of mentions of Shepard’s name monthly on the web and in the gay community to last a lifetime. His name and legacy wouldn’t disappear if the industry surrounding his slaying took a long [permanent?] vacation. Nothing will bring Shepard back to life, but Matthew Shepard Inc closing up shop for an extended time would at minimum restore some dignity to his legacy and halt the ridiculous and crass commercialization associated with him.” Yes, but then where would all the gay skiers go to cruise the lodge? Also, are we really having a conversation about how a courageous woman, who has used the legacy of her gay-bashed-to-death son to raise awareness about gay crimes and lobby lawmakers to protect our community, is somehow paying herself too much by earning a relatively modest salary? I kind of like the idea of a “gay activist brand” — a concept that is completely kosher, by the way — being built not around Joe Solmonese’s ego, but one of our lost ones.

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  • meego

    Yes, she is. Especially shamefull considering that Matthew’s death was nothing more than retaliation for a drug deal gone wrong and unpaid drug debts. It had nothing to do with homophobia. But, a martyr was needed for the cause and Matthew fit the bill.

  • AFruit4Thought

    When Judy Shepard came to Drew University…we didn’t have enough money to pay her normal fee. She came to our school anyway because we were having disturbing episodes of homophobia and transphobia. She was amazing…

    I sat backstage with her as a short movie linking racism and homophobia played. I could see her face as she listened to the video that discussed her son’s death. She must have given this same speech with this same video 100’s of times…but the pain was still there. It’s hard for me to criticize a woman like that.

    BTW, her exorbitant fee for speaking – know why it’s so high? Because all profits go to the Matthew Shepard Foundation…and people will pay it. I’m not sure about her salary, but I’m at a point where I don’t think she’s profiting all that greatly from her son’s death – she’d probably rather have him back than all the money in the world.

  • Shannon1981

    IDK what to think here. I don’t think she is using her son to make money. I think a lot of that must go to the Foundation itself, travel expenses, events….all this wonderful gay awareness stuff costs MONEY. I find it admirable that she will not let her son’s death be in vain, and Matthew puts a real face, name, and story to homophobia, and Judy brings that story to life. I don’t think its about money to her. She has to make SOME money. She has to live. And with what she does, she cannot very well work a regular day job. While I don’t think anyone needs a 6 figure income to survive- plenty do it on much less- and commercialism is out of control with The Laramie Project, I do admire her courage and strength. Really hard to criticize her at all IMHO. But I don’t like that so much cash has been made off this poor boy’s slaying either, so, like I said, IDK what to think.

  • Joe in Decatur, GA


    What’s especially shameful is that you’d excuse a violent crime as “nothing more” than anything.

  • RomanHans

    If you know anything about nonprofit organizations, you’d know $127,918 is very low pay. The heads of most of them — GLAAD included — pull down closer to $300,000. (You can make your own decision whether you want to donate to a charity where some employees make more than you.)

  • Shannon1981

    Ok, really weird that I was flagged here. At any rate, no idea what to think, really. I admire her refusal to let her son have died in vain, and her determination to raise awareness. I still feel with all my heart that is her motivation here, not money. Also, I have a feeling a lot of that so- called huge salary goes right to the Foundation, and to travel expenses, events,etc. All of those things cost money, and, also, with what she does, she has to pay herself SOMETHING to be able to live. As for all the productions of The Laramie Project You won’t hear any complaints from me there, I think people, especially young, straight people, need to see it.

    However, all that being said, we live in such a commercialized society and this is no different. Make the price tags on things, even something as tragic as this, too high, and people become desensitized to it. So I can see where the scrutiny is coming from. Yes, going on two decades later, the pain is still fresh for her, but for society? Not so much. People die all the time. At this point, I hate to say it, but Matthew is a statistic to the world at large.

  • Joe in Decatur, GA

    What’s with the fuzzy reporting of her “salary” and the income of the non-profit? Which one is which?

  • Harbo

    Leave Judy Shepard alone. What she has done for the gay community is priceless. She deserves all the credit (and money) she can muster. Why bitch about a woman who has lost a son to gay-bashing and who is raising money (quite successfully,I might add) to further our cause. Help, don’t hinder.

    MEEGO: Don’t be such a righteous asshole! It doesn’t really matter why Matthew was killed. The fact is he was beaten and left to freeze to death. This is needlessly cruel. It must be terrible to have a loved on die slowly like this. Put yourself in her shoes. If they fit.

  • L'Herbs

    @AFruit4Thought: I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • gina

    Petralis is right this time. Just to clarify… if her deceased offspring were black, latino or a trans woman, she’d be getting zip. Gwen Araujo’s mom is a tireless crusader against violence and she’s not working for Gay Inc. nor getting any kind of speaking fees other than transportation costs. What happened to Matthew was horrible, but it wasn’t any more horrible than what happened to the many hundreds of trans women who’ve been brutally murdered since that time. Since when did he become the nationally designated victim and his mom “our” paid spokesperson?

  • Oprah

    Michael Petrelis is jealous. His man ‘ego’ cannot handle a woman earning so much money. Its alien to him. The woman lost her son, get over yourself. Petrelis faag,go lose a son then we will talk. You go Mathews mother–keep Mathews name alive! I love ya!

  • ewe

    @meego: You idiot. If anyone has never gone to hear her speak then just shut the fuck up. She is eloquent and so calm, considerate of all questions and methodically humble. I adore and respect her outlook on life concerning all people. And no one should ever put down the mother of a gay man who loves him.

  • Lester

    That is really a twisted way to look at Judy. I would hope that Michael Petrelis would take a good look at himself rather than judging others so critically. That really is disgusting. I thank her for everything that she has done and hope that she continues to do so. With the recent recognition of gay youth suicides, I’m sure that more people have wanted to have Judy Shepard come speak, and rightfully so. It is not wrong for Judy to charge for speaking engagements. Traveling around the country is not an inexpensive or easy thing to do.

  • Cam

    @meego: said…

    Yes, she is. Especially shamefull considering that Matthew’s death was nothing more than retaliation for a drug deal gone wrong and unpaid drug debts. It had nothing to do with homophobia. But, a martyr was needed for the cause and Matthew fit the bill.”

    Funny how you claim to know this, and yet in both of their defenses they claimed that he hit on them and that they realiated. Guess you didn’t read that part.

    As for Judy Sheppard, my guess is that she would give her salary back in a second if it ment having her son back alive.

  • JKB

    I doubt Matthew would mind his mother making money from his suffering, considering what’s done is done. So, more power to her.

  • averageguy40

    depending on where you live $127,000 may not be that much. I agree she’d probably rather have her son back.

  • justiceontherocks

    What’s with all the animosity toward Judy Shepard? What the hell did she do? She lost her son in an incredibly tragic fashion, she’s devoted her life to preventing the same thing from happening to others, and for that she gets assaulted by a professional muck-raker and some truly off base commentors here?

    No good deed goes unpunished.

  • dvlaries

    Suppose we don’t raise this question till Fox hires and pays her to host “America’s Most Wanted” for 20 years.

  • Lefty

    Those who deny the homophobia behind Matthew’s murder are usually right-wing nutters with an obvious agenda – like Virginia Foxx or Fred Phelps – they repeat the spurious claims made by that hatchet-job “report” on 20/20 in an attempt to downplay or even outright reject any notion of a “hate crime”.
    And though it never ceases to amaze me whenever the minority of right-wing gay fuckwits who sometimes comment on this site crawl out from under their stones to spout some dodgy old nonsense, I have to say it’s pretty fucking sad when apparent gay men start jumping into bed with the likes of Fred Phelps (who has a picture of Matthew “burning in hell” on the page on his site where 20/20’s lies are gleefully repeated) and parroting these same lies themselves.
    That, if nothing else, proves that Matthew Shepard’s story isn’t known enough. And who the fuck cares what Judy Shepard earns if she’s doing good work in honoring her dead son’s name and fighting against homophobia?

  • Jperon

    The article is pretty awful and mean-spirited. And the first post about a drug deal gone bad is just a right-wing talking point that has no credibility in the facts.

  • Chris

    After all she has been threw, I could really care less about how much money she is making, she deserves it. Even though it won’t bring her son back, I’m sure the money does make things easier.

  • Mike Reynolds

    Michael Petrelis represents everything that is wrong with our movement. When the hell will we get it through our skulls that the time we spend viciously ripping apart our strongest allies, should probably be spent fighting those who would prefer to see us dead?

    In the amount of time he took to write an article lambasting someone for running one of our most incredible LGBT orgs and earning money doing it, he could have made dozens of calls to lawmakers in RI or MD who are actually about to vote on our rights.

    What a waste. We need to start exorcising these hapless trolls from our movement.

  • Tommy

    Petrelis wages a never-ending crusade for openness, transparency, and accountability, but he refuses to hold himself to the same standards. For example, a while back, he went on a tirade against various activists over the small amounts they had donated to oppose Prop 8. His criticism, as usual, was nasty and mercilessly pious.

    So on a lark I looked up Petrelis’s name in the Prop 8 donor database. The chump didn’t donate a dime. Then I looked at the donor list for Question 1 in Maine. On that list, you will see many moving instances of unemployed people, college students, and low-wage workers from all over the country donating $10 or $15 dollars to help out. But the self-righteous Petrelis? Not a nickel.

    So, I posted a comment about this on his blog asking him why he didn’t hold himself to the same standards that he holds others. No attacks or profanity, just a pointed question. Wouldn’t you know, Mr. Transparency screens his comments. And needless to say, anything having to do with Petrelis’s own conduct never sees the light of day.

    So while it is useful to have a muckraker to challenge Gay Inc., it would be far better to have one who is not quite so filled with bile and malice and is not so steeped in hypocrisy.

  • kwool

    I have had the pleasure of meeting Judy two times, and both have been completely wonderful. She is a kind woman–just like you’d expect any mom to be. Having dinner and just discussing “normal” dinner topics revealed that she is extremely friendly and benevolent. To say that she is “profiting off her son’s death” is ridiculous.

    When she spoke at my university, there were some really great moments during the Q&A–questions where students were coming out for the first time. Judy like a “wonder mom” with these, and we all shared wonderful moments of allowing people to finally express who they are. Her words are truthful and held with conviction–there’s not one thing she says that she does not believe.

    She has a hate van following her around. And she doesn’t let that get to her.

    I have a deep respect for her. She’s a wonderful person and it’s nearly offensive to propose this (unsound) argument.

  • Gareth C

    She has clearly made it her lifes work to spread the message that homophobia is not okay. As this is effectively a full time pursuit, I fail to see how $100,000+ a year is an excessive amount. There are probably queerty writers making that.

    At least she’s doing something useful with her time, something incredibly positive. Queerty is so bitchy and depressing sometimes. Who on earth thinks that writing articles like this is a good idea?

  • MD

    As someone who works in the Not For Profit sector, that amount for a head of foundation, National Director or CEO is comparable to other organisations. It’s shameful when critics within the community pursue angles like this, in an attempt to discredit people who are actually doing work for the common good.

  • greenmanTN

    *IF* there is a problem with the high profile of the Matthew Shepard case, it’s only that other, similar gay-bashing murders haven’t received as much attention or entered the public’s consciousness in the same way. And that isn’t the fault of Judy Shepard, it’s mainly due the US media which doesn’t really give a lot of attention to anti-gay crime. The media likes it’s victims to fit a certain type, young, white, photogenic, and preferably female but certainly non-threatening. Without that type Nancy Grace wouldn’t have a career, such as it is. The problem is that victims who don’t fit those criteria are given such short shrift.

  • YetAgain

    I know there’s some debate as to whether Matthew Shepard was killed for being gay, or for a drug deal gone bad, or (probably) a mixture of both. But, either way, I think Judy Shepard, a mother who lost a son, has been good for same-sex rights and keeping gay-bashing as a topic in the public eye. Petrelis is an idiot and a loon for criticizing her. But it’s not the first time he’s acted like a loon. We should just toss any significance he has or has ever had.

  • Shannon

    HELL YES!!! You should not profit from death ( aside from funeral parlors etc) and she plays on sympathy all the time with the croc tears….ALSO when it was revealed he boyfriend was Black….that “rattled” the pristine image of this little kid to gay white men…LOL……how come no one interviewed HIM??? HMMMMMM….????

  • thematics

    @Shannon: She is doing her job, that’s why she gets paid. She educates people, serves as an advocate, and works to pass antdiscrimination laws.

    Your temper tantrum indicates that you have no idea how the world works. The race of the boyfriend has nothing to do with anything other than your own naive, racist views.

    You really ought to simmer down and breathe deeply before ranting so incoherently. You clearly have an agenda outside the topic of this article. We don’t care what you think.

  • meego

    @Cam: And I guess you don’t realize how easily a case can be made to work if there’s a need for it. Happens all the time. Didn’t get part, did you?

  • meego

    @Cam: And I guess you don’t realize how easily a case can be made to work if there’s a need for it. Happens all the time. Didn’t get that part, did you?

  • meego

    @ewe: So according to you, I’m an idiot because I disagree with you and with public opinion? Would you care to explain that? Also, tell us what alternate plane of reality you’re on?

    I did not, at any point, put her down. If you cho0se to believe that his death was the result of homophobia, so be it. But some of us know better. Like I just wrote, I know how easily a case can be made to work if there’s a need for it. Think about that long and hard, if you can.

  • justiceontherocks

    @meego: You called what she was doing “shameful.” That’s “putting her down.”

    And Ewe didn’t call you an idiot because he disagrees with you. he called you an idiot because you write like one. You toss out some conspiracy theory, give no facts to support it, and expect everyone to believe you because “some of us know better.” That is being an idiot.

    Put up or shut up.

  • meego

    @justiceontherocks: And you are, what? The queerty thought police? Judy herself once admitted, very early on, that her son had drug addiction problems (crystal meth, for one) and thought that his death had more to do with a drug deal gone wrong and/or unpaid drug debts. He assumed the guys were gay and offered them a “special” way of paying up. (Many a times, the truth is stranger than fiction–don’t forget that) But when the whole gay bashing murder/homophobia angle took off like wildfire, she never again mentioned what she originaly thought it was all about.

    People like you are so desperate for a martyr for the cause that its affecting your faculties. When a falsehood is repeated often enough, it is engrained in public consciousness and becomes the truth. And for the 3rd time, a case can easily be made to work if there’s a need for it. This is a perfect example.

    And you would know how an idiot writes. I need not say anymore on that!

  • AFruit4Thought

    I thought that there wasn’t any confusion on whether it was just a drug deal/mugging or a hate crime? I mean, the accused admitted to the murder being gay motivated in the courts. They even tried the “gay panic” defense. Sounds like a hate crime to me.

  • Jeffree

    @meego: So what if Matthew used drugs? Does that justify how he was murdered? Where did Judy say that the death was more due to drugs than sexuality?

    You, like most trolls, came here with an agenda: your’s is to discredit the Shepards. Why is this so important to you personally?

  • justiceontherocks

    @meego: She “never again mentioned” what you claim she “once thought it was all about” (if she ever mentioned it in the first place) because the evidence produced at trial showed it was a robbery and gay bashing gone wrong. You can have all the conspiracy theories you like, but the facts do not support you.

    Go find something to be happy about.

  • meego

    @justiceontherocks: “Facts” can be altered to suit a purpose. Do you have extensive experience in law enforcement? Do you have any idea how such things work? I’m not talking about the “facts” reported by the media or the crap you see on court tv. I won’t bother explaining to you any of this because it would obviously surpass your limited mental abilities.

    Your vision of the world seems to be quite narrow. I’ve witnessed first hand the real ugliness of this world, some of the worst humanity has to offer. Like I’ve written many times, a case can be made to work in a specific way if there is a need for it. You come across as one of the dumb ones who is very easily influenced by whatever “facts” are put out by the media. Trials are a joke. A media circus. And you people think I’m the idiot???

  • meego

    @Jeffree: Could you come across any dumber than you do now? Your stupidity is astounding! I don’t even know where to begin!

  • Yorban

    Jeffree is the one who always pulls that tiring thing where he threatens you with having “flagged” your post and contacting legal authorities.

  • greenmanTN

    @meego: “I’ve witnessed first hand the real ugliness of this world, some of the worst humanity has to offer.”

    And now you’re displaying “real ugliness” and “the worst humanity has to offer” for everyone to see, you psychotic bitch. Tell us, just where did you discover these “facts,” Free Republic? Focus On The Family? Because they aren’t supported by any reasonable reading of the COURT DOCUMENTS you biased, moronic POS!

    Either supply links to these so-called facts, from REPUTABLE sources, or shove your head back up your ass where it normally resides.

    Thanks ever so.

  • Jeff

    The “Meego” email aside because its pure nonsense, i appreciate the author’s point. I’ve heard her speak a few times and i was underwhelmed. Matthew told about having been raped as a child when his family was on business outside the US. From the description he was 12 years old in very unsafe surroundings without his parents. Where was Judy then to protect her child? Perhaps all this effort by Judy is guilt. In any case i really don’t find it very helpful. As the author of this article said, there are plenty of people who are passing the story along in a far better way by producing the “Laramie Project” play.

  • FrankieT

    For those that are concerned about the effectiveness of an organization it is simple to check.

    1.On the website, the organizations 990 reports are available for review.
    2. is a site evaluates the ratio of contirbutions to dollars direct to clients.
    3. Many organizations often are incorporated as several 501 C type organizations, not just as a Not for profit 501(c)(3).
    4. Many people are not aware that some NFP’s use professional fundraisers which can cost 50-90% of the funds raised. Several national organizations outsource their dinners. auctions and other activities, rather than using volunteers. Outsourcing activites can save staff costs but will greatly diminish the percentage of the funds raised that go to clients or clients services.
    5. Most small contributors make their donations on emotions more than effectiveness of an organization.

  • Laura

    She is brave. If my son were murdered I would be afraid to leave the house, much less to become a public figure and travel the world spreading a message. I saw her speak today.

  • snowisfun

    METHEW Wayne Shepard is who he should be called. Yes, Judy Shepard is profiting from her son’s killing. Now why he was killed, only he & his killers know. With Matthew or (Methew Wayne) Shepard as he has been called, rather than discuss his killing, tell the the truth about who Matthew Shepard was in the last year of his life before October 1998.

    METHEW W Shepard was described by acquaintances, even some friends as ‘obnoxious, moody and selfish.’ He chose University of Wyo of all the universities he could get into, but he then put down the University and town of Laramie. Yes, it was his free speech right to say that but there are 2 things he did which are worse.

    Matthew or METHEW Wayne Shepard frequently feared he had AIDS, but continued to be promiscuous including getting drunk and using Ecstasy encounters in bars. He was a reckless person who did not care. He had PTSD and depression, but he worsened this by being a drunkard and junky. This information comes from friends and acquaintances who knew him & the information about Matthew Shepard’s Meth use was revealed by friends on 20/20 in Nov. 2004, but this was known for years.

    In August 1998, a drunk Metthew W. Shepard harassed a bartender in Cody Wyoming. He asked the bartender for a walk around lake, after which the bartender said no. But rather than end it, he kept asking him repeatedly, grabbed the bartender’s arm & jacket, threatened him with comments such as ‘you’re afraid of what I can do to you’ after which the bartender decked him, k/o him. The next day, Shepard made up story to Cody cops about being homosexually gang raped by 3, but the medical tests disproved him as no sex happened. Cops interviewed bartender, waitress who saw what happened & concluding the bartender self-defended against a drunk Shepard, no charge was filed.

    The excuse Judy Shepard has made for this is that her son had PTSD, was drunk and that once the tests disproved him, he ‘dropped’ the charge-when it’s the cops who do so. Maybe Mw Shepard believed his story-only he knows his intent. But he chose to worsen his PTSD with drugs & alochol. Once the Cody cops concluded the bartender’s story was true, they should have arresed Shepard for assault and battery and falsely reporting crime, but why the did not is unknown. Yes, his October 1998 killing is another topic, but him being a crime victim in October 1998, did not make him good & it didn’t redeem him. He mistreated others before his death & he was drunkard junky who mixed Ecstasy with anti-depressants. Even if you distrust his 2 killers stories, those are facts about Shepard told by his own friends & family which are fact, including the excuse his mom makes for the Cody incident.

  • snowisfun

    Added note, let me admit that I’m against gay/lesbian sexual behaviors & believe it’s comparable to drug junkyism. You can put a public service ad which says drugs are gay starring METHEW Wayne Shepard, a true story. Transexuals are worse & they should make it a crime to do sex changes. But I have thoughts on the ‘gay panic’ defense. On gay/lesbian topics, many to most journalists write 1/2 truths because either they have pro-gay bias or if they bring out truth which makes the gay a criminal, the homosexuals complain to the press’s advertisers. Gay/lesbian groups complained in April 2012 after KTLA & other medias published the names & photos of 18 gays arrested for indecency in Manhattan Beach bathrooms.

    But gay bashings’ are usually he says he says cases. Gays will usu. say that they’re innocent victims of unprovoked violence while the man who hit or killed the gay will usu. say that he did so in reaction to criminal abuse the gay did. I oppose starting fights. If a gay is minding his own business & not harassing any1, then leave him alone. But if a gay is going to be anti-social thus with ‘gay panic’ if a gay is going to be anti-social such as expose himself, harass others in bathroom or commit assault&battery by pinching a man’s butt or groin against will after which man reacts by bashing or killing him, man did so in reaction to gay’s crime. Jury decides if man’s reaction was just or excessive.

    If a man were going around pinching a woman’s butt or boobs against her will, he would be in jail. If a man gets bashed after he did this, many would say the man deserved it. In 2010, singer Katy Perry’s ex beat up a Paparazzi photographer who was trying to upskirt Katy Perry. Men do get punished if they sexually harass women & sometimes men have been beaten up for it incl. even cases where men have been beaten up or even killed after a woman accused the man of rape/sex abuse only to later be learned the man was innocent.

    Unless some1 is attacking you, it’s a crime to grab some1’s butt or groin against will-assault&battery if intent isn’t sexual to something more serious such as sex abuse if it is. If a homosexual is going to be anti-social such as expose himself, harass other men in bathrooms or repeatedly propose after man said no, the homosexual is committing criminal harassment. If a gay is going to grab a man’s butt or groin against will, that is criminal assault&battery. If a man reacts by bashing or killing a gay in those cases ‘gay panic’, then he did so in reaction to criminal anti-social conduct the gay did. Jury decides again if reaction was just or excessive & if excessive, then manslaughter instead of Murder 2. Again I oppose starting fights but if a gay is being anti-social in the ways descrbied, then there’s no need for a man to take the gay’s anti-social conduct & man should have right to use any just force to end it.

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