Matthew Shepard Will Be Interred at the Washington National Cathedral, 20 Years After His Death

Matthew Shepard Will Be Interred at the Washington National Cathedral, 20 Years After His Death
20 years later, Matthew Shepards parents find a safe resting place for their son: the National Cathedral
Mr. Shepards killing in 1998, when he was a 21-year-old college student, led to national outrage and, almost overnight, turned him into a symbol of deadly violence against gay people.

Mourners flocked to his funeral that year in Casper, Wyo., but there were also some protesters, carrying derogatory signs. Mr. Shepards parents worried that if they chose a final resting place for their son, it would be at risk of desecration.

Matthew Shepards death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are, said the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral. In the years since Matthews death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place.

Now they have found a safe place. On Oct. 26, Mr. Shepard will be interred at the Washington National Cathedral, the neo-Gothic, Episcopal house of worship that is a fixture of American politics and religion.

I think its the perfect, appropriate place, Dennis Shepard, Matthews father, said in an interview on Thursday. We are, as a family, happy and relieved that we now have a final home for Matthew, a place that he himself would love.

NBC OUTNBC OUT25 years of coming out: From Melissa Etheridge to Janelle MonaeThe attack on Shepard took place on Oct. 6, 1998, when he was beaten and tied to a fence near Laramie, Wyoming. The attack captured international headlines and focused attention on violence driven by anti-gay animus. Many states and municipalities expanded or passed hate crimes laws in response.

Two decades ago, Matthew Shepard was robbed by two men, pistol-whipped and tied to a fence in Laramie. He hung there bleeding in near-freezing temperatures until a passing bicyclist spotted him, thinking at first that he was a scarecrow. He later died in a hospital.

Weve given much thought to Matts final resting place, and we found the Washington National Cathedral is an ideal choice, as Matt loved the Episcopal Church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming, Judy Shepard, Matthews mother, said in the statement shared with NBC News.

His death was a wound on our nation, Mariann Edgar Budde, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said in an interview on Wednesday. We are doing our part to bring light out of that darkness and healing to those who have been so often hurt, and sometimes hurt in the name of the church.

The elder Mr. Shepard said his family had long searched for a fitting resting place for his son, who was once an altar boy in the Episcopal Church. They considered spreading his ashes over the mountains and plains of Wyoming, but still wanted a place they could visit to talk to him. They considered splitting the ashes.

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed a bill bearing Shepards name that expanded the 1968 Civil Rights Act to include hate crimes committed because of a persons sexuality, disability or gender identity, in addition to a persons race, color, religion or national origin.

At the cathedral, not only will the family be able to visit him, but so will guests from across the world.

A candlelight vigil for Matthew Shepard in 1998.Evan Agostini / Getty Images fileThe remains of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old Wyoming man who was savagely beaten and murdered in a homophobic attack in 1998, will be interred at Washington National Cathedral.

Its a place where theres an actual chance for others to sit and reflect about Matthew, and about themselves, and about their friends, Mr. Shepards father said.

Mr. Shepards friend Jason Marsden remembers him as a young man who was passionate about global politics and human rights. He remembers the funeral in 1998 — how the attendees overflowed into nearby churches, and how some people came to protest with their signs.

Now Mr. Marsden, who works to promote his friends legacy as the executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, plans to be there in Washington this month when Mr. Shepards ashes are interred in the crypt.

It is a noteworthy place to be at rest, and it invites conversations about the importance of this person and what this person represents in American history, he said.

Mr. Marsden added that Mr. Shepard liked his church in Wyoming and would have appreciated being interred at the grand cathedral in Washington. I think that with Matts sense of occasion and drama, he would have found that tremendously gratifying and very cool, he said.

The cathedral regularly hosts prayer services and memorials for politicians and presidents. It recently hosted Senator John McCains funeral. The ceremony on Oct. 26 will begin with a public service in the morning, and the ashes will be interred privately.

Bishop Budde will preside over the event alongside the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who became the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church in 2003. He has since retired.

Bishop Robinson said he had been working with Mr. Shepards parents on issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for years. He said that Mr. Shepards mother asked him about the possibility of interring her sons ashes at the cathedral, and that he helped to make it happen.

God can take something very, very bad and make something good come out of it, he said. I think thats exactly what the Shepards have done for all of us, taking this tragic, awful event and making something meaningful and productive out of it.

Bishop Robinson said the country had made good progress on civil rights for L.G.B.T. people since Mr. Shepards killing, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Mr. Shepards name was on a bill, signed into law in 2009, that expanded the definition of violent federal hate crimes to include those committed because of a victims sexual orientation. And the Washington National Cathedral has honored Mr. Shepard before; in 2013, it hosted a screening of Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, a documentary about his life and death.

But the work is far from over, Bishop Robinson said, adding that people are still being hurt and killed because of their sexuality or committing suicide because of trauma or alienation.

Mr. Shepards death became a symbol of the kind of mindless, pointless violence against us for no other reason than being who we are, Bishop Robinson said. It is important for us to remind ourselves that we are still trying to come out from under that shadow.

About 200 people have been interred at the cathedral in Washington, including President Woodrow Wilson, Adm. George Dewey of the United States Navy, Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan. Mr. Shepard will be a quite welcome addition, Bishop Budde said.

A lot has changed in the 20 years since Matthew was abducted, tied to a fence and left to die, Bishop Budde said. A lot has changed, but not everything has changed. It felt really important for us to say that we believe L.G.B.T.Q. people are beloved children of God, not in spite of their identities but because of who they are — who God created them to be.

To have Matthew sharing a facility with people like that is above and beyond what we ever expected, he said.

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(CNN)Twenty years ago this week, Matthew Shepard died after being beaten, burned and left tied to a fence in Wyoming by two men who targeted him because he was gay.


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