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Meeting Judy

Meeting Judy


"Hello, Alec. I just thought I'd introduce myself. My name is Judy Shepard." She walked right up to me at the 25th anniversary banquet for the Human Rights Campaign in D.C., took my hands in hers, and I was completely mortified. I should have been the one to introduce myself to her. I planned on saying hello that night, but she was already swamped by well-wishers, having just received a standing ovation from 3,000 people. That's a lousy excuse, but the truth is, meeting famous people scares the shit out of me. I regard celebrities like wild animals on safari: I'm fascinated by their presence but am far too intimidated to make an approach.

I think it's because the first famous person I ever met was Imelda Marcos. As a child I accompanied my father on a tour of Manila he had booked for World War II veterans. Included on the itinerary was an afternoon visit with President Marcos at Malacanang Palace. While waiting to meet Ferdinand, Imelda glided into the receiving room. With a lacquered beehive that defied gravity and a silk goddess shift festooned with hand-embroidered flowers, she seemed less like a person and more like a renegade parade float. I was terrified. I squeaked out a pathetic "P-pleased to meet you, Mrs. President." She offered a limp handshake, maintaining eye contact with the wall space just above my head. I was in the tropics but felt ice run through my veins.

Judy Shepard is one of my heroes. She's taken her grief over the brutal slaying of her son Matthew and channeled it into a galvanizing vehicle for tolerance and change. Determined to prevent their son's fate from befalling other people, Judy and her husband, Dennis, established the Matthew Shepard Foundation to help carry on Matthew's legacy by embracing the causes he had championed. I was afraid to meet her. Not only because my own activism seems vaudevillian and inconsequential in comparison, but because Judy Shepard looks just like my mom. Slap a black pixie wig on her, give her an olive tint, and watch me scramble to hide my report card.

I completely live up to the stereotype of the gay man as mama's boy. I was my mother's shadow. Teased relentlessly at school, I only ever felt completely safe and relaxed in her company. Judy has been quoted as saying, "I loved Matt just the way he was." Asian people don't say things like that, but I knew subjectively that my mom felt the same way about me. When I came out to her it was such a nonissue that I rued the months I spent preparing for the big disclosure. When she died 13 years ago I swore I would miss her for the rest of my life. So far I have.

Judy said to me, "I just wanted to thank you for all the work you've done for our community." I wanted to put my hand over her mouth Dianne Wiest-style and shout "Don't speak!" but was rendered mute by the sight of this white woman with my mother's face. I wanted to tell her I've done nothing. I'm just a comic embarrassed by my own neediness. But you've given more than I ever could and without any of my bitterness. You are the personification of grace. I said none of this but just hugged her. She returned to her table, our brief exchange over. I met a real star. And the light was blinding.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Alec Mapa