Judy Shepard Takes on ADF: Stop “Exploiting Children In the Name of Hate”

Matthew Shepard. Courtesy Judy Shepard, used with permission through The Matthew Shepard Foundation

Judy Shepard is no stranger to the heartbreak that anti-LGBT hatred can wrest upon on a family and a community. And while she has turned her son Matthew’s brutal murder into a decades-long rallying cry for hate crime protections and broad acceptance for LGBT people, the generally soft-spoken mother from Wyoming had some harsh words for the Alliance Defending Freedom in an op-ed published today in Time. She writes:

I know my son Matt would be as disappointed as I am that hatred is taking a seat at the tables of our leadership right now. It seems like it’s getting its own wing in the White House.

Hatred is not nature. It is nurture. No one is born with hatred in their heart—it is learned behavior. People learn to hate in the same way they learn to love. The difference is: Who are the educators?

Unfortunately, groups like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which describes itself as a conservative Christian organization, exploit children in the name of hate. It parades them around a courtroom for frivolous lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit. One prime example is a suit filed recently against a school district in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, claiming that a high school student was sexually harassed when he saw a transgender boy changing in the school locker room.

Children don’t deserve to be thrust into this spotlight. They’re just kids—kids being bullied by an international, multimillion-dollar anti-LGBTQ hate group.

Shepard goes on to powerfully connect the dots between the anti-gay hate that took her son’s life and the transphobic fear-mongering that has propagated so-called “bathroom bills” around the country and, in no small way, is responsible for the murders of at least 10 transgender women of color in the U.S. this year alone. It’s all about fear of difference, Shepard concludes.

She’s right, of course. And while Shepard comes at the issue from her own deeply personal well of experience, she also identifies an important, terrifying trend that ADF has long been backing, but which has picked up immeasurable steam since the election of Donald Trump: the twisting of religion to justify gross abuses against people (in many cases, minors) whom right-wing Christianity regards as “different” or “other.” In its supposed pursuit of “bodily privacy” for its clients, ADF has proven time and time again that it is willing to literally expose trans youth—making their genitalia the subject of public discussion.

The hate-group’s justification and historical precedent, as Shepard exposes, is paper-thin:

[These are] the same strategies that were employed during segregation era—the strategy of selecting white people who “became ill” or “felt uncomfortable” sharing a water fountain with their black neighbors. We already know how this will play out over the course of history. It was never about water fountains, and it’s not about restrooms or locker rooms now. It is a misguided attempt to remind people that in their world view the trans community is not worthy of equal treatment under the law.

Read Shepard’s entire op-ed, published in partnership with Media Matters’ Eliminate Hate Campaign, in Time‘s Ideas section.