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Matthew Shepard quit the Washington National Cathedral: NPR



Matthew Shepard's ashes were buried in the Washington National Cathedral on Friday after a public reminder in the Filled Cathedral.

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Matthew Shepard's ashes were buried on Friday at the Washington National Cathedral after a public remembrance in the Filled Cathedral.

Cameron Pollack / NPR

Updated at 1:40 pm ET

Matthew Shepard, the young gay man brutally murdered on a cold night in Wyoming 20 years ago, was buried in Washington National Cathedral on Friday. A reflective, music-filled ministry contrasted sharply with the protests against homosexuals that defaced his funeral two decades ago.

The public memory of the filled cathedral was directed by the Right Pastor Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, and the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay man to elect a Bishop in the Episcopal Church. Thereafter, his ashes were buried in the crypt of the cathedral at a private family ceremony.

A program of Matthew Shepard's public remembrance of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

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A program of Matthew Shepard's public remembrance of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on Friday

Cameron Pollack / NPR

Robinson was emotional during the public ceremony and in tears in the crowd. "That Matthew returns to church," he said, "is a remarkable step forward."

He explicitly welcomed LGBT participants and said, "Many of you have been hurt by your own religious communities, and I want to welcome you."

Shepard's parents demanded that their sons be buried after 20 years of restraint in the cathedral. They feared his grave would be violated.

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"Matthew loved the church," said Shepard's father Dennis. "He loved the fact that it was a safe place for anyone who wanted to enter."

"It's so important that we now have a home for Matt … a home protected from haters, a home he loved dearly."

Matthew Shepard's family goes with their remains after a public ceremony at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

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Matthew Shepard's family goes with his remains after a public ceremony at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on Friday, gone.

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Robinson praised Shepard's parents, who dedicated their lives to activism and founded a foundation on behalf of their son. "By the grace of God," he said, "they decided that they would turn that terrible event into something good."

"Rest at this place, you're safe now. Matthew, welcome home," said Robinson

Judy and Dennis Shepard at the public ceremony. The Shepards dedicated their lives to activism and founded a foundation on behalf of their son.

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Judy and Dennis Shepard at the public ceremony. The Shepards dedicated their lives to activism and founded a foundation on behalf of their son.

Cameron Pollack / NPR

In October 1998, Shepard was beaten unconscious by two men he met in a bar in Laramie, Wyo, after the men tied 21-year-old Shepard to a fence on the outskirts of the city. Eighteen hours passed before he was found by passing cyclists. He died of his injuries five days later without regaining consciousness.

The prosecution claimed that Shepard had been targeted just because he was gay. The men charged with his murder, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, were sentenced to life imprisonment, where they remain.

In the following years, circumstances were contested, but Shepard's assassination was still considered a classic hate crime, highlighting anti-gay bigotry. Four months before Shepard was killed, white racists in Texas had tied African American James Byrd Jr. to a pickup and dragged him to his death. The indignation over the two brutal murders led in 2009 to the passing of the Shepard / Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Matthew Shepard, who was seen here in San Francisco in 1989, was beaten and died 20 years ago, widely seen a crime of hate.

Dennis Shepard / Matthew Shepard Foundation on AP


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Dennis Shepard / Matthew Shepard Foundation on AP

Matthew Shepard, who was seen here in San Francisco in 1989, was beaten and died 20 years ago in a widespread hate crime.

Dennis Shepard / Matthew Shepard Foundation on AP

The law has extended an existing federal law against hate crimes to criminal offenses based on sexual orientation, gender identity or the disability of a victim. Shepard's killing became the basis for a play, the Laramie Project, which draws widespread attention to the problem of homophobia. Shepard's parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation and became activists for gay rights and harder hate crime prosecutions.

Shepard's funeral in 1998 was recorded with vociferous protests from anti-gay militants. The decision to seek his burial in the National Cathedral came from the Shepard's friendship with Bishop Robinson. Robinson contacted the Dean of the Cathedral, Randolph Marshall Hollerith, and the Bishop of Washington, Mariann Edgar Budde, who readily agreed to place Shepard's ashes in the crypt of the cathedral.

"The Shepards realized that they had not come to the full closure" about the murder of their son, Robinson NPR said in an interview before the funeral ceremony. "They began to think that this could be the time to rest Matthew."

Shepard's ashes were buried in a private family ceremony in the cathedral's crypt.

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Shepard's ashes were buried in a private family ceremony in the cathedral's crypt.

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In addition, Robinson said Shepard's burial in the cathedral was significant for the LGBTQ community in the United States, which was hostile to many people in conservative faith communities.

"Let's face it," said Robinson. "Churches and synagogues and mosques have been the source of our greatest pain as LGBTQ people." Robinson himself was vilified after revealing his sexual orientation, and his election as episcopal bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 led to a split in the US Episcopal Church.

"That Matthew returns to church … is a remarkable step forward," said Robinson. "It is the cathedral that says some churches are different, some churches have been with you on this journey, and we will not only welcome you, we will celebrate you."

Participants attend the service at the National Cathedral in Washington DC on Friday.

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Attendees greet during worship at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on Friday

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Similarly, Bishop Budde sees the inauguration of Matthew Shepard in the crypt of the cathedral as of great importance. Other notable personalities whose remains are still there are President Woodrow Wilson; Marine Adm. George Dewey; and Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan.

"There will be young people from all over the country who are giving tours here and being educated here," she said. "As they pass, they will see a plaque in their honor, and they will see that this is a church that has learned from the example of the violence we need and that is one of those who work for justice and full embrace of all the children of God. "


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