Sunday, March 06, 2011

Matthew Shepard Ski Week & Judy's Salary

The 1999 murder in Wyoming of gay youth Matthew Shepard has come a long way from tragedy to a kitschy money-maker and advocacy operation. Shepard's life and certainly his death have been used and abused by many people to advance political agendas (HRC, hate crimes bill), earn some coin (Moises Kaufman, "The Laramie Story" play and movie),  and now, profiteering socializing gussied up as activism on the slopes (Matthew Shepard Foundation's Ski Week).

To my mind, a ski week to raise funds further cheapens the ever-diminishing ethical lessons of Shepard's death, thanks to his family and their foundation. This devaluing of the tragedy in Laramie is solely the responsibility of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which has successfully marketed their name on various merchandise for years, including coffee mugs, luggage tags and a small teddy bear.

Why is it Shepard's murder has become an industry that we would never see with any other brutal American killing against a minority? Sorry, but I simply cannot image the families of James Byrd or Emmitt Till marketing their loved one's brutal and bloody death the way the Shepards have commodified their son's murder. It may be easier at this point for the Shepard foundation to list knickknacks that don't bear their name or events they won't endorse, because it sure seems like they've thought of every angle to squeeze money out of Matthew's corpse.

For more than a decade Judy and her cohorts at HRC hijacked the gay agenda for hate crimes legislation at the federal level, while employment and housing protections languished on the back burner. They achieved their goal in 2009, with minimal beneficial impact on the daily lives of millions of American gays, and we can forget about a serious campaign for, forget about actual passage, the work and living protections we need much more than a "law and order" piece of legislation as we move into the 2012 election cycle.

I also can't picture Byrd or Till's family lending their names to a party week at a ski resort, but the Shepard family and foundation have no such qualms partnering with a dubious fundraising time in the mountains.

From the Shepard Ski Week site:

A percentage of your lodging & lift reservations will directly benefit The Matthew Shepard Foundation ... [and] Ski Week will debut in the Spring with plenty of Sun and Snow for a full series of fun ski events and parties while bringing attention to the foundation’s mission, ...

The week [March 19 – 26, 2011 ] will feature parties from the very first night until we wrap. ...

Please join us at Butte 11 for what promises to become one of The Matthew Shepard Foundation’s signature events! Help us as we RAISE some funds, RAISE Awareness and RAISE a glass or two at one of the most beautiful locations in the country! Do the Butte! ...

I hope a heat wave strikes Butte! May green grass welcome the skiers! Please, let Matthew rest in peace, but since that is not an option, we should also examine where profits from such events go, and other ways the foundation keeps the dough rolling in.

As with practically every other top honcho at a Gay Inc group, Judy's salary at the foundation currently is a robust six-figures. In 2007 her pay was $85,025, for 2008 it was $102,813, and the 2009 IRS 990 tax filing for her nonprofit is listed at $127,918

One way Matthew Shepard Inc keeps itself in business is through Judy collecting between $10,000 - $20,000 for speaking engagements. Click here for her profile page at Keppler Speakers.

Should you want to throw money away, you could attend an upcoming Elton John concert and part of the ticket price will go to the foundation.

I'd like Matthew Shepard Inc to go on hiatus for at least a decade. There's are enough readings and stagings of "The Laramie Project", sales of the movie version and the latest in crappy merchandise, thousands of mentions of Shepard's name monthly on the web and in the gay community to last a lifetime. His name and legacy wouldn't disappear if the industry surrounding his slaying took a long [permanent?] vacation.

Nothing will bring Shepard back to life, but Matthew Shepard Inc closing up shop for an extended time would at minimum restore some dignity to his legacy and halt the ridiculaous and crass commercialization associated with him.

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