The audience at a Feb. 10 Chicago Lakeshore Hospital presentation received a hate crimes and gender education from two LGBTQ giants. Riki Wilchins, best known as a founder of Camp Trans and the author of Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender, and Judy Shepard, the mother of slain 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, each gave talks to a room of more than 100 people.
The event, "Addressing Hatred & Strengthening the LGBT Community through Personal Action & Professional Support," was hosted in partnership with Loyola University at the college's downtown law school. While the event was intended for mental health clinicians, the talk attracted several LGBTQ people interested in meeting Wilchins and Shepard.
Judy Shepard spoke at length about how her gay son, Matthew, whose Laramie, Wyo., murder in 1998 sparked national anti-hate crime campaigns and resulted in the Matthew Shepard Act, which added gender identity and sexual orientation to hate-crimes legislation. Judy Shepard currently serves as the chair of the Matthew Shepard foundation.
Shepard appeared nervous as she took the podium. "I'm not a professional at this," she said in a shaky voice. "I'm a mom with a story."
She recalled the months leading up to her son's murder and then read the same victim impact statement she read on April 5, 1999, at the sentencing trial for her son's killer. "I was thinking, how can anyone be so threatened by this sweet tiny child that they would do this to him?" Shepard said.
Shepard emphasized that while she didn't feel it was her responsibility to forgive Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, her son's killers, she felt that anti-gay hate was something they were taught.
Shepard called on audience members to educate against anti-gay bias. "Matt is no longer with us because two men learned that it was O.K. to hate," she said. "We are growing in numbers, and I don't think it's because there are more of us. It's because there are more of us talking about it."
She ended her presentation by encouraging people to work for legislative protections for LGBT people.
Riki Wilchins focused on bullying and gender expectations in children. Wilchins is the director of programs and research for TrueChild, a non-profit dedicated to research and education around adolescents and gender roles. She argued that much of what was been reported as anti-gay bullying among youth is actually gender-based violence, as many young people are bullied before they are sexually active because they disobey gender roles.
"We need to start engaging people in a discussion about gender norms," Wilchins said. "When you have an 11-year-old kid who kills himself because someone calls him a faggot. … It's about gender. ... Gender is how we index homosexuality."
Wilchins urged people to talk to kids not just about homophobia but about gender stereotypes. She wants kids to challenge ideas about masculinity, which she said can effect decisions young people make about their bodies, sex, and how they treat other people. She also said ideas about masculinity can have negative impacts for the LGBTQ community.
"When you look at why some gay men don't wear condoms…it's about masculinity," she said. "The biggest weapon in the gender system is not violence. It's shame."
Presentations concluded with a question and answer session with a panel that included Shepard and Wilchins as well as David Fischer from Illinois Safe Schools and Dr. Peter Nierman from Chicago Lakeshore Hospital.