Judy Shepard says she belongs to a "small, select group" of parents who have lost a child to murder.
But Matthew Shepard's slaying in 1998 wasn't a typical killing. The gay 21-year-old was savagely beaten with a pistol butt and left strung on a fence outside of Laramie, Wyo., in frigid weather. Eighteen hours elapsed before a passing bicyclist initially mistook him for a scarecrow.
The University of Wyoming student never regained consciousness after his parents rushed to his Fort Collins hospital bed from Saudi Arabia.
Ever since, his mother and allies of the Matthew Shepard Foundation have fought to "replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance," as the foundation website notes.
Shepard spoke Tuesday to a record crowd of about 600 people who packed the annual Inside Out Youth Services breakfast to hear her story and support the only local nonprofit that serves LGBTIQ young people. The meal raised more than $50,000 for the organization.
When a young audience member asked Shepard how people deal with the loss of a child, she said: "People talk about closure. There is no such thing."
Then she wept. Finally regaining her composure, the mother said, "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry - ever!" another audience member yelled out.
"We didn't think we would be doing this (work) 19 years later," Shepard said. "But here we are. We're very busy right now trying to rectify things that have been turned backward.
"This is what happens when you piss off somebody's mom," she said to extended applause.
Inside Out - a haven for young lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and those questioning their sexual identity - this year moved to a bigger downtown space at 223 N. Wahsatch Ave. and won a state Tony Grampsas Youth Services grant of $126,000. But it also lost Executive Director Mary Malia, who returned to Maine in August to help family members.
The organization tapped former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace to serve as interim director, and her introduction at the breakfast prompted a standing ovation and sustained applause from the crowd.
"Wow. I didn't expect that," said a clearly surprised Makepeace.
She lauded Malia for her leadership and for planning the breakfast and said she is honored to serve Inside Out.
"I tried retirement. It just didn't fit," said Makepeace, who was executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado after her long stint in politics.
Inside Out, in its 27th year, is the only local nonprofit serving "LGBTIQ XYZ" youth. Makepeace joked about the alphabet soup. But its work is serious.
The agency serves homeless youths rejected by their families, provides cooking classes, support groups and life skills, and gives youngsters opportunities to "gather in a safe space" for "community and companionship," Makepeace said.
"Inside Out has a huge staff - 2½ of us," so it welcomes volunteers and donations, she said.
"We can't do this without you."