Matthew Shepard’s ashes have not been interred even though it’s been 20 years since his death, as his parents feared any site would be desecrated. But now the gay hate-crime victim's remains will be laid to rest at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
“I think it’s the perfect, appropriate place,” his father, Dennis Shepard, told The New York Times 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.” The interment will take place October 26.
Matthew Shepard became a symbol of antigay hate crimes when he was murdered at age 21 in 1998. He was a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where two men he had met in a bar beat him brutally and left him hanging on a fence the night of October 6. He died six days later.
His family considered scattering his ashes around Wyoming, but they decided they wanted a place to visit. They feared desecration, however, as they had witnessed the presence of protesters from the hateful Westboro Baptist Church at Matthew’s funeral.
Now the National Cathedral, which is affiliated with the Episcopal Church and draws visitors from around the world, will offer a safe and appropriate site for Matthew’s final resting place. “It’s a place where there’s an actual chance for others to sit and reflect about Matthew, and about themselves, and about their friends,” Dennis Shepard told the Times.
Matthew was once an altar boy in an Episcopal congregation, and the denomination is one of the most LGBTQ-supportive in the nation. “His death was a wound on our nation,” Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, told the Times. “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 National Cathedral has been the site of many high-profile ceremonies, including, recently, the funeral of U.S. Sen. John McCain. Those interred in its crypt include such prominent Americans as Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and President Woodrow Wilson.
There will be a public ceremony honoring Matthew on October 26, presided over by Bishop Budde and the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first out gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. The ashes will then be interred in a private service.