Annual Shepard Symposium on Social Justice April 3

March 8, 2013
Two men
Zach Wahls and Samuel Freedman will give keynote addresses at the annual Shepard Symposium on Social Justice at the University of Wyoming next month. (Top Photo Courtesy of Zach Wahls)

Zach Wahls, an Iowa teenager who stood up for the rights of same-sex couples and later wrote a book about his own two mothers, is the keynote speaker of the 17th annual Shepard Symposium on Social Justice April 3-6 at the University of Wyoming.

As a 19-year-old University of Iowa freshman in 2011, Wahls spoke to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in a public forum regarding full marriage equality. The son of a same-sex couple, Wahls proudly proclaimed, “The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character.”

Hours later, his speech was posted on YouTube, where it went viral, quickly receiving more than 2 million views. Since then, he has become a gay marriage and gay parents advocate. His book, “My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family,” delivers a reassuring message to same-sex couples, their children and anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. Wahls recounts how being raised by two mothers prepared him for that landmark day in 2011.

Wahls will give the symposium’s keynote address at 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 5, in the Wyoming Union Yellowstone Ballroom. The event is free and open to the public.

This year’s Shepard Symposium, “Counter Narratives: Advocacy at the Intersections,” will feature panel discussions, concurrent sessions on current issues and a closing benefit party.

The symposium, an annual event at UW since 1997, seeks to engage participants in discussion and analyses of strategies and actions that can eliminate social inequality.

The Shepard Symposium has grown from a local grassroots event to a nationally recognized conference, says Angela Jaime, UW Department of Educational Studies associate professor and the symposium’s chair.

Originally named "The Symposium for the Eradication of Social Inequality," the event honors the work of the Shepard family and the memory of their son, Matthew Shepard, a UW student who was murdered in 1998. The symposium steering committee unanimously agreed to change the name to the Shepard Symposium for Social Justice to honor his memory.

The symposium promotes dialogue on issues related to social justice, particularly within the context of public education. The symposium has expanded its focus so that participants from throughout the community, state, region and nation have presented on social justice issues within a variety of arenas, Jaime says.

Among highlights of this year’s symposium are:

-- GLARE and UW faculty panel, Wednesday, April 3, at 4:30 p.m., Yellowstone Ballroom. GLARE (GLBTQ Advocacy in Research and Education) is a group of faculty and staff in the School of Education at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, committed to the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning or gender-nonconforming children and youth.

-- Writer Samuel G. Freedman will speak Thursday, April 4, at 4:30 p.m., Yellowstone Ballroom. Freeman writes the “On Religion” column for The New York Times and, before that, the “On Education” column. He was a staff reporter for the Times from 1981 through 1987.

-- “Equality in the Equality State” panel discussion/luncheon Friday, April, 5, at 11:30 a.m., Yellowstone Ballroom. Panelists will examine the Wyoming legislative processes surrounding the introduction of HB 168, a bill granting legal recognition to domestic partnerships, and the bipartisan cooperation that enabled its progress.

-- “Saturday Night Party” beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at the Alice Hardie Stevens Center, located at 603 E. Ivinson St. Tickets cost $5, with proceeds benefiting the Tie the Knot Foundation, which was founded by actors Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Justin Mikita. The couple teamed up with Tie Bar to create a line of art-inspired bow ties, with the proceeds donated to various gay and lesbian rights organizations.

For a complete symposium schedule, visit the website at

“The steering committee has worked hard this year to offer a variety of speakers telling you about the ‘Counter Narratives’ -- stories largely untold or silenced at the margins. We have some exciting speakers for this year’s event,” Jaime says. “This year we also received more than 50 presentation proposals, the most ever in the 17 years of the Shepard Symposium.”

For more information, contact Jaime at (307) 766-3991 or email

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