Bear To Make A Difference Fundraiser
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending “Bear to Make a Difference” in Denver Colorado. This is a fundraising event held annually for the Matthew Shepard Foundation. This year marked the events tenth anniversary, drawing a record attendance of 650 people. Prior to dinner, there was a silent auction which featured teddy bears dressed up by various celebrities which were usually accompanied by autographed photos of the celebrity who created the bear. The auction also offered a number of other items which had been donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. After dinner there was also a live auction for a half a dozen vacation packages.
Once the dinner was under way, the Foundation gave out a handful of awards to individuals for their ongoing support of LGBTQ issues. The highest honor given annually is the Making a Difference Award. This year the 2011 Making a Difference Award recipient was Jennifer Beals, actress from ‘The L Word’. Jennifer gave a touching speech about how much she supports our community, especially after playing a lesbian on ‘The L Word’. Judy Shepard also recognized a number of individuals who have been tireless in their dedication to LGBTQ causes.
The keynote speaker for the evening was John Berry, Director of the United States Office of Personnel Management. Mr. Berry was appointed Director by President Obama in 2009. Upon his swearing in, Mr. Berry became the highest ranking openly gay public official in history. I had the honor of meeting him at a reception prior to the fundraiser. He is a very well spoken advocate for our community and was extremely influential in obtaining domestic partner benefits for all Federal Employees.
Other then being able to help support the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the highlight of the weekend was being able to meet and speak with the Shepard Family. Their ability to turn such a tragic event in their lives into something so beneficial is unparalleled. Judy Shepard is a very soft spoken, quiet individual, yet her voice has been by far one of the loudest for the anti-hate and bullying movement. She was undoubtedly the key to passage of the Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This act added perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the 1969 Federal Hate Crimes law.
I was also able to meet Randi Driscoll, singer and songwriter. Upon learning the story of Matthew Shepard, Randi wrote a song about the tragic event called ‘What Matters’. She then began selling the song and donating all proceeds from the single to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. She has since made countless appearances to help support the Foundation. She was one of the performers on Friday night at a weekend kickoff event called “Experience The Divine” which was held at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. If you have never heard the song, go to YouTube and see one of her many performances. It is a very touching tribute sure to bring a tear to your eye.
I encourage you to consider donating to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. They have done a tremendous amount to help stop the hate and encourage understanding, compassion, and acceptance. You can learn more about the Foundation as well as the Matthew Shepard story by visiting their website at www.matthewshepard.org