Matthew Shepard will finally be laid to rest Friday at the Washington National Cathedral, more than 20 years after being killed by two men because he was gay.
“It’s so important that we now have a home for Matt,” his father, Dennis Shepard, said at the start of the service. “A home that others can visit, a home that is safe from haters, a home that he loved dearly from his younger days in Sunday school, and as an acolyte in the church bake home.”
The homily was to be given by the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church.
The National Cathedral in Northwest Washington, D.C., has been a longtime supporter of the full inclusion of LGBT people in church and “considers LGBT equality the great civil rights issue of church in the 21st century,” its website says. It hosted its first same-sex wedding in 2010.
It’s a fitting resting place for Shepard, whose death galvanized the LGBTQ civil rights movement and whose legacy led to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also named for a black man killed by three white supremacists in Texas.
“You could never dim the memory in 20 years of one so loved, nor can 20 years heal the grief of such a loss,” said Bishop Mariann Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
“And so we are honored today to celebrate his life again, as we lay to rest at last his physical remains in this place, which will forever protect and honor his physical remains, while his soul is safe with God, and his spirit lives forever,” Budde said.
Shepard was a 21-year-old college student at the University of Wyoming in October 1998 when he was robbed, beaten and tied to a fence and left for dead by two men he met in a bar.
He died six days later, on October 12, 1998, at a hospital in Colorado.
The two men were convicted of kidnapping and murder in the attack, which police said was initially a robbery. But, they said, Shepard was targeted because of his sexual orientation.
Shepard’s parents previously said the National Cathedral was the only place they believed his remains would be safe from desecration.
“We didn’t want to leave him in Wyoming to be a point of pilgrimage that may be a nuisance to other families in a cemetery,” they said earlier this month. “We didn’t want to open up the option for vandalism. So we had him cremated and held onto the urn until we figured out the proper thing to do.”