Students show support for Shepard, Westboro group a no-show

Nearly 100 students from Marquette and other schools showed support for Judy Shepard in a rally against the Westboro Baptist Church Tuesday night. Photo by Emily Waller/emily.waller@marquette.edu

Tonight nearly 100 students from Marquette, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and as far away as Madison braved the cold and rallied on 15th and Wells to show solidarity for Judy Shepard and her mission to support the LGBT community.

Shepard’s speech to a packed Weasler Auditorium tonight was planned in tandem with the Marquette Theater Department’s performances of “The Laramie Project” that run through Sunday in the Helfaer Theatre. “Laramie” tells the true story of Shepard’s son, Matthew, a 21-year-old college student in Wyoming who was brutally kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 1998 for being gay.

The students originally were to converge to stage a counter-protest against the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. The WBC had made a statement on its website saying members would be protesting Shepard’s appearance on campus.

The group did not come.

Andi Woodward, a student at MIAD and creator of the “Support Matthew Shepard’s Mom Against Protestors” event, was pleasantly shocked by the number of students who came out to show their support for Judy Shepard and the LGBT community. She was not surprised the WBC did not show up.

“The amount of people that have came is insane,” Woodward said. “This is a positive moment for Judy and the LGBT community.

“Right now, we are telling WBC that we don’t want your hate — we want your support and equality.”

Fellow students cheered and chanted while cars passed, holding signs that said “Gay is OK” and “Love is love.”

Many of the protesters planned on attending Shepard’s talk in the Weasler Auditorium after showing their support.

“We are a large group here to support Judy Shepard and are here fighting with our hearts,” said Samantha Fox, a freshman at UW-Milwaukee.

Pick up a copy of Thursday’s edition of the Tribune for full coverage of Shepard’s speech and the counter-protest.