A little over a year after Matthew Shepard was finally laid to rest in Washington National Cathedral, the church and the Matthew Shepard Foundation are dedicating a plaque honoring him. Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student brutally murdered in 1998, spent 20 years without a burial site for fear it would be vandalized before he was interred at the cathedral last October.
Soon after last year’s ceremony, cathedral representative Kevin Eckstrom said it became very apparent that Matthew was one of the most important of the 200 people buried in the cathedral, in addition to Hellen Keller and former President Woodrow Wilson. He said visitors came from across the country wanting to pay respects, leave flowers and letters, and light a candle. In conjunction with the foundation, the church raised $30,000 for a permanent marker at the burial site through GoFundMe.
“Its not just a burial site, it is a pilgrimage site in a lot of ways for a lot of people,” Eckstrom said. “We wanted to find a way to honor that experience, but also to help people to have something to see and touch and have a connection to.”
A dedication ceremony will be held on December 2, the day after Shepard’s birthday, featuring speakers and musicians to honor Shepard’s legacy and the path his death paved for LGBTQ+ legal reform. Though the components are yet to be finalized, Eckstrom said the event will mostly likely feature high-profile musicians and elected officials, and he expects several hundred attendees.
The ceremony is one of five events sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies, with one to be held each year following Shepard’s funeral, through 2023.
“[The events] will not only celebrate his life and the impact that he had and also his death, but also to kind of assess where we are as a culture, as a church, and as a nation in the struggle for LGBTQ equality,” Eckstrom said.
The bronze plaque will be displayed in the crypt, where Shepard is interred, mirroring a plaque dedicated to Keller, who is also buried at the site. According to Eckstrom, Shepard’s mother, Judy, was very adamant that her son represents a broader view of marginalized people including immigrants, minorities, and the disabled. She insisted that the bottom half of the plaque be written in Braille for visually impaired visitors.
In addition to Shepard’s name, date of birth, and date of death, the plaque will bear an excerpt from a speech made at last year’s burial event by Gene Robinson, a Shepard family friend and the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.
“Matt, rest gently in this place,” it will read. “You are home safe now, peace be with you and all who visit here.”
The public event will be held in the main section of the cathedral, with a time to go downstairs to the crypt to pay respects to the plaque. RSVP to the public event here.