Washington National Cathedral, one of the largest Episcopal churches in the United States, will honor Matthew Shepard, the gay rights icon who was murdered in 1998, with the dedication of a newly commissioned devotional portrait in his honor.
The portrait, by artist Kelly Latimore and commissioned by LGBTQ members of the Cathedral staff, was composed in collaboration with the Shepard family. Shepard’s ashes have been interred at the Cathedral since 2018, and a plaque marking his final resting place, in the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, was dedicated in December 2019.
Shepard, who was 21 when he died, was a gay student at the University of Wyoming. After a night out, he was brutally attacked, beaten, and tied to a fence in a field outside of Laramie, Wyoming, and left to die. Five days later, he succumbed to his injuries.
More than a decade after his death, in 2009, a hate crimes bill named after him and James Byrd, Jr., a Black man who was also killed in a bias-motivated attack, was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The law expanded the definition of protected classes to include a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
The portrait of Shepard will be dedicated following a day-long series of events, co-hosted by Washington National Cathedral and the Matthew Shepard Foundation, on Thursday, Dec. 1, on what would have been Shepard’s 46th birthday.
The day will begin with an online service of morning prayer , streamed live on the Cathedral’s YouTube page, at 7 a.m., led by the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church. From 2-5 p.m. that day, the portrait will be on display for any visitors who wish to view it. The day concludes with a dedication service in the Cathedral’s crypt at 7 p.m.
The Cathedral has a long history of promoting the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church, and has previously honored Shepard with other events. The Cathedral also hosted same-sex weddings beginning in 2010 and welcomed its first transgender preacher in 2014.
The dedication ceremony honoring Shepard comes just after another large-scale LGBTQ tragedy, the mass shooting at the LGBTQ nightclub Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in which five patrons and employees were killed.
“The horrific murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs are a tragic reminder that our LGBTQ friends and family continue to be targeted for who they love, and Matthew Shepard’s legacy reminds us of the urgency to confront bigotry and embrace people of all backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, the dean of Washington National Cathedral, said in a statement. “We hope the Cathedral continues to be a sacred space that offers support and strength for all who visit.”
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