Originally published on Advocate.com September 20 2003 12:00 AM ET
Judy Shepard knows the pain felt by the family of a Rineyville, Ky., man who was slain in June, allegedly because he was gay. Shepard is the mother of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old gay Wyoming college student who was murdered in October 1998. She spoke at the University of Kentucky on Thursday night after discussing several gay-related Kentucky issues during a news conference. Without prompting, Shepard brought up the death of 36-year-old Guinn "Richie" Phillips. Phillips's body was found in a suitcase in Rough River Lake. The man charged with murdering Phillips, Josh Cottrell, told relatives that he planned to kill Phillips because of his sexual orientation, according to Kentucky State Police records. The slaying has drawn calls from gay rights activists who want the state to enact a tougher hate-crimes law. "I hope [Phillips's family members] know they're not alone in this fight," Shepard said. "There are way too many of us in this club. I know that [in Kentucky] you can't declare murder a hate crime. That's unfortunate, if only for the statistic that it would create. But my favorite part of hate-crimes legislation is the education. If we can educate young people about sensitivity to minorities, that would really be the most important thing." Shepard said she speaks at about 45 to 50 colleges per year. She includes in her presentation a reading of the victim impact statement she gave in court after her son's death. "I read my victim impact statement to take people back in time," she said. "It's been five years now, so it's a stretch to think that these young people will remember that. They need to be taken back. My program is about acceptance and diversity, all in relation to the death of my son, Matthew. I talk about how to be fair and kind to one another and how I feel that if people were kind, the things that happened to Matt wouldn't happen."