Sitting down to dinner to wrap up two jam-packed days of outreach by Judy and Dennis Shepard in Poland to parents of LGBT individuals, non-governmental organizations, parliamentarians, TV reporters, and others, I was struck by how universally their story resonates even thousands of miles from the United States.
As co-founders of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Judy and Dennis have worked tirelessly to expand LGBT rights and protections through the legal system, while changing hearts and minds by telling the tragic story of their son's murder due to hate and intolerance.
The State Department is proud to be sponsoring the Shepards on a five-country, two week-plus European outreach trip. The Shepards' tour includes stops in Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, and Germany.
The first leg of the Shepards' trip took place in Warsaw, Poland, where I serve as Deputy Cultural Attache, and was co-sponsored by the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH, in Polish) -- one of Poland's leading LGBT organizations.
On day one, the Shepards met with KPH's "Mothers' Group," a social support network for the mothers of LGBT children. KPH is creating a documentary about the mothers' group, which will be part of a larger social awareness campaign to reach out to families of Polish LGBT persons. The filmmakers were on hand for the Shepards' meeting, where the parents swapped stories and shared experiences. Later that afternoon, the Shepards spoke to a crowd of 50 students and activists at the Stefan Batory Foundation.
Day one concluded with a reception at the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Poland Lee A. Feinstein. More than 100 people -- including parliamentarians, several activists, cultural figures, and journalists -- gathered to meet the Shepards. In a surprise ceremony that was captured by the documentary filmmakers, Ambassador Feinstein and the Shepards handed out certificates of appreciation to the mothers in KPH's Mothers' Group.
The Shepards kept up their busy pace on their second day in Warsaw. They gave half a dozen media interviews, including a thirteen-minute spot on "Dzień Dobry TVN," one of Poland's most popular morning television programs. But the main attraction of the day was a Hate Crimes Conference in the Polish Parliament, sponsored by Parliamentarian Robert Biedroń, the only openly gay man in the Polish Parliament. To conclude their final day, and a successful swing through Poland, I was very pleased to join the Shepards for a dinner with the board of the Campaign Against Homophobia.
Next up for the Shepards: bringing their message of tolerance, LGBT rights, and parental activation to thousands more beyond Poland, and across central Europe. As a State Department officer, I am very pleased to help reinforce Secretary Clinton's message about human rights by supporting the Shepards' outreach to European audiences.