The television has been glued to NBC and its web of networks over the last couple of weeks, as the couple is constantly keeping an ear to what’s been happening in Tokyo.
For Judy, it’s been incredible to see the sheer number of out LGBTQ athletes competing at these Olympics, as a reflection of how far society has come.
Still, the mother who lost her son, Matthew, to a homophobic attack in 1998 can’t help but wish society were even more willing to embrace every LGBTQ person, and that every LGBTQ athlete in Tokyo felt they could publicly be out.
“I’m pleased it’s that many, but I’m sad it’s not more,” Judy told Outsports from her home. “There have been athletes at every Olympics who weren’t out. I wish their own countries, and our culture at large, weren’t so close-minded that the gay community is seen as less-than. Still, I’m overwhelmed by the number of countries represented by out athletes. I just wish there were more.”
One of the out athletes Shepard has most enjoyed watching is, no surprise, Team USA shot putter and silver medalist Raven Saunders.
“I did see Raven win her event and her her medal, only to hear she lost her mom, which is heartbreaking. And her protest was brilliant. Just the fact that she had the courage to do it and the reasons she did it.”
Saunders said she wanted to win an Olympic medal specifically so she could use her platform to amplify the message that
“Shout out to all my Black people,” Saunders said, “shout out to all my LGBTQ community, shout out to everybody dealing with mental health. Because at the end of the day, we understand that it’s bigger than us, and it’s bigger than the powers that be.”
It’s been out athletes using their platforms to send messages of support for their LGBTQ community that has most gotten to Judy.
“They’re just there to be athletes, which is cool, but when they make a statement, like Tom Daley did, it adds so much more context to the issues, it’s brilliant.”
Judy and Dennis have both been committed to helping the LGBTQ community ever since their son was murdered 23 years ago. Judy said the Biden Administration has opened up some doors for their work that had been more closed during the previous Presidential Administration.
“We have a more favorable administration now. So the DOJ has raised hate-crime-awareness training again, making it a higher priority in the state AG offices.”
Judy is the board chair and president for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which aims to eliminate hate crimes and open hearts and minds. The Foundation will have a big fundraiser this October, and they welcome any support for that. Yet Judy has a simple way anyone can help the Foundation’s mission.
“If you want to help us, do something in your local community to help the lives of your local LGBTQ residents.”
By being out as an inspiration for their communities, that’s exactly what all of the out LGBTQ athletes at the Tokyo Olympics are doing, and one of the reasons Judy has loved watching them.