I am sitting across from Judy Shepard. More than a decade after her 21-year-old son Matthew was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, we are face to face for the second time.
We first met on the 10th anniversary of the vicious homophobic attack against her child. Talking about the attack is as appalling now as it was the first time I heard about it. That first interview was a professional test for me: try not to choke up while reliving it with the woman who, after her brutalized son, felt the worst pain.
This time Shepard is in Toronto to speak to students at York University and to promote her book, The Meaning of Matthew – My Son’s Murder in Laramie and a World Transformed. It is time to tell her family’s story, Shepard says. And she wants to clear up misconceptions about her son “that aren’t fair to Matthew.” Shepard is anyone’s mother; she is stronger than her small frame suggests, she is world-weary and she is, as she puts it, “on a crusade.”
One day before my talk with Shepard I am speaking with arguably the world’s most flamboyant gay star, the in-your-face American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, as far a cry from the gay folk hero that is Matthew Shepard as you can imagine.
We’re taping our interview in an upscale west-end hair salon where Lambert is shooting a segment for one of those “make me look like a celebrity” shows; a kid in a salon chair is sacrificing his own appearance to beome like his queer idol.
While waiting for Lambert, I watch as the kid has his nails painted (steel grey). A cosmetics company pops by to bestow upon him a bag of its products, including moisturizer with just a bit of glitter and new mascara. I take to Twitter and post my observations.
Instantly, my Twitter feed goes mad. I am informed of new follower after new follower, Glamberts who need to know more. National Post messages me for more “cuticle intel”; everyone, I realize more than ever before, is gloriously mad for Lambert, a gifted peacock.
Lambert turns out to be a fun chat who possesses the soft charm of a humble small-town boy (from say, Laramie, Wyoming) who is quite comfortable on the joy ride to making it big. We spend time on a topic I’m obsessed with: what it means to be a real man in 2010. Lambert loves not having to answer another damned question about how he faux-sucked cock on that award show, and we discuss the idea of taking people further in their thinking about masculinity than they’ve ever gone before — just through the power of staying true to ourselves.
On Twitter afterwards, I see my tweets about the glam god have been heavily re-tweeted, and my blog enjoys an avalanche of new hits as global fans rush to see photos and find out when they can hear and see our conversation. Amazing, I think, on the drive back to my office. Amazing, because so many of Lambert’s fans are teenagers and young adults — it’s this new generation that’s lighting up my Twitter page and blog, squealing for more. They don’t care that he’s gay, they especially love that he’s flamboyant, and they see it as a wonderful example that this marvelous man lives his life authentically.
Fast-forward one day, and here I am with the drained but determined activist Judy Shepard. We discuss her iconic son, now and forever frozen in time as that lovely, soulful blond boy (who was “far from perfect,” Shepard assures me). His image seems light years from that of the over-the-top Adam Lambert.
Shepard and I discuss how homo hatred is taught first in the home, and I can’t help but think of all the truly rabid fans who are today loving the very out, very queer Adam Lambert. If they don’t already, likely one day soon they will have families and homes where they will teach the next generation lessons of love and hate.
It’s such a beacon of hope, to me, anyway, as I sit across from Judy Shepard. Hope that the work done in the aftermath by this heartbroken mother will give Matthew’s murder meaning and help move us to a place where the likes of Adam Lambert, you, me and all who follow can lead lives free of the specter of hate that took her son.