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Diverse Topics Highlight 13th Shepard Symposium at UW

March 27, 2009
Elizabeth Birch

"Greet the Dawn, Not the Setting Sun: Shining Light on Human Rights," is the theme for the 13th annual Shepard Symposium on Social Justice April 1-3, at the University of Wyoming.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues highlight the symposium recognizing the 10-year anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, a UW student  who was murdered in 1998. All events are free and open to the public.

Begun by two UW College of Education faculty members, Omawale Akintunde and Margaret Cooney, the symposium, then called "The Symposium for the Eradication of Social Inequality," aimed at involving UW and local students in dialogue on issues related to social justice, particularly within the context of public education.

The symposium has expanded its topics to include inequalities based on race/ethnicity, gender sexual orientation, disability and class. Honoring the work of the Shepard family and the memory of their son, Matthew, symposium organizers changed the name in 2002.

The symposium begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, in the Wyoming Union Ballroom with the showing of the film "Straightlaced: How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up," with director Debra Chasnoff. A hip-hop event that features a discussion by feminist hip-hop artist Rosa Clemente and performance by up-and-coming, hip-hop masters Collected Elements follows the film.

Numerous concurrent sessions will be offered Thursday, April 2, from 9:35-10:50 a.m. and from 1:20 p.m.-4 p.m. Among events scheduled during the day are poet and activist Eli Clare discussing "Hate Violence, Fierce Love: Histories of Grief, Rage and Resistance," and a special screening of the film "It's Still Elementary," at 4:15 p.m. Events are in the Wyoming Union.

Elizabeth Birch, civil rights activist and former Human Rights Campaign executive director, is the symposium's keynote speaker. She will discuss "Gay Civil Rights and Its Impact on the Individual, Business and Community." Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the UW College of Education auditorium. She will be introduced by Judy Shepard, the Matthew Shepard Foundation executive director.

Birch's talk is based on her own experiences in activism, litigation and politics and encourages audiences to embrace differences and better understand the lives of others.

Concurrent sessions will begin at 9 a.m. Friday, April 3, in the Wyoming Union. Beth Loffreda, MFA Program director and UW English associate professor, will give the symposium's endnote address at 11 a.m. She is the author of "Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of Anti-Gay Murder."

A special showing and discussion of the Lifetime movie "Prayers for Bobby" will be in the Wyoming Union ballroom at 1:15 pm.

Legendary recording artist Elton John will be in concert at 8 p.m. Friday in the Arena-Auditorium as part of a fund-raising event for the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

A complete symposium schedule is available at

For more information, contact Sylvia Parker, UW Science and Mathematics Teaching Center coordinator and one of the organizers of the symposium, at (307) 766-6671 or e-mail

Posted on Friday, March 27, 2009

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