In a perfect world, this book would not exist. There would be no need for it. Kids who played together would grow up and nurture and support each other in their adult lives. Our children would all have equal opportunities for success and happiness. Parents who love and cherish their children would do their very best to raise them into healthy, confident adults. Sadly, that world is not here yet.

When Matthew died in 1998, our family grieved at the premature loss of our son and brother. In this ideal world, Matthew would be alive, living his life and touching the lives of those around him. He had an interest in politics and current news events. He was quite adept at understanding complex issues and was equally adept at expressing his opinions on these issues. He had such hopes for the future, his future. Every new step for him meant new challenges, new friends, and new experiences.

A Face in the Crowd is an extension of Matthew’s dreams. He knew that judging people before knowing them was a loss of an opportunity. He never understood why everyone did not think that way. He felt there could be nothing better on this earth than another friend. In the following pages, you will see a diverse group of people living lives filled with love, hope, and happiness. No one has the right to deny or take away the right for another person to celebrate life and show individual expressions of love simply because that person is seen as different.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation is proud to support A Face in the Crowd. It is our sincere desire that this book will serve an important role in our attempt to break down barriers rooted in prejudice and hate. Together, we must commit to move beyond the simple task of tolerance of those who are perceived as being different, and begin to embrace the rich diversity that exists around us. As individuals, by simply changing our lives to live it with honesty, compassion, and love, we have the ability to touch those around us in significant ways. It is a choice we make each moment of each day.

As parents, it hurts us to hear that children have been thrown out of their homes by family members who cannot, or choose not to, accept their child’s very brave admission. Most children would rather come home with solid “F’s” on a report card than come out to a parent as gay or lesbian. It is a brave act to stand up and proclaim who they are. Every day, 13 homeless youth die on the street. It does not have to be this way. Often the youth who find love and acceptance within their families must endure abuse and harassment perpetuated by peers in their schools, churches, or communities. We urge parents to teach their children that there is a better way.

For you the parents, who are angry with your children, or the youth, who have not given your loved ones an opportunity to support you, remember that our son, Matt, was in this world one day and then gone the next. Life and time is fleeting. Use it as best you can to heal the wounds of the past and grow forward together.

Matthew died at the hands of two young men who hated him simply because he was different. They did not know him. They did not know our family or his friends. Those who knew him continue to feel his loss. Other communities have seen similar crimes committed because of hatred for a person’s skin color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or simply the way they looked, thought, or spoke. Hate and intolerance are learned behaviors, and do not need to be passed on to our children.

Because of the extraordinary situation surrounding his death, Matt became an international face for hate crimes. Our quiet son became a symbol of all that is wrong in our world: hate, bigotry, ignorance, intolerance. Please help us continue to show that his voice has not been silenced in vain. Your one voice, your face in the crowd, has enormous potential to affect those around you.

We are so pleased with this book that you hold in your hands. A Face in the Crowd was created to illustrate to GLBT youth, their loved ones, and the general public, that there is no one specific way to live in America as a gay individual. From historic figures and role models to community and family, we hope to show that gay life in North America simply does not fit a single stereotype, that there are challenges to overcome but the future is increasingly hopeful.

If you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individual, we hope that you will find resonance in this book. Perhaps you are a parent or educator who can learn more about those you love and care for and will find valuable resources for self-education. You are undoubtedly a friend if you are reading this book. Share this book and the messages with your family, friends, and loved ones, or anyone else who may benefit from its positive message. Many times, the mere act of self-acceptance and sharing one’s experience can have a profound influence on those around us.

Knowledge and education are the best weapons we have against intolerance. Please join us in passing on these words, and the values within, to help ensure a more accepting and safer world for our children.

– Judy and Dennis Shepard

 

Read the Introduction by Judy and Dennis Shepard | Read the foreword by Betty DeGeneres