Working for a Hate-Free Society
Teaching Tolerance in Ohio
[AKRON, OH] - When Judy Shepard brought her message of tolerance to Akron, Ohio, in April, she carried a special credential: a union label.
Shepard is the mother of Matthew Shepard, the gay man who was savagely murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in 2000. His murder, and the death later that same year of James Byrd, an African American who was dragged to death in Texas, sparked a nationwide movement against hate crimes.
Shepard's appearance in Akron is part of a two-week series of lectures, films and community forums on the theme, "Working for a Hate-Free Society."
UAW Local 1112, which represents workers at GM's Lordstown Assembly plant, is a co-sponsor. "There are many causes that unions need to support," says Local 1112 President Jim Graham. "This is one of them."
Bringing Judy Shepard to Akron was the brainstorm of Local 1112 retiree Joni Christian, who is vice chair of the Pride Center, a gay and lesbian community center.
She developed a sensitivity to intolerance as a result of her own personal experience.
Christian was working at Lordstown during a challenging period in her life. In 1975, she went through a sex change operation.
"I was treated like a freak in a side show," she recalls. "Men came by and stared and jeered." In the face of harassment, Christian found a steady source of support from her local union.
"The local union officials didn't necessarily agree with my orientation," she says. "But they defended me against harassment like they would any other member."
Twenty-seven years later, Local 1112 is an active participant in a coalition for tolerance that includes churches, synagogues, a women's shelter, community groups and several local businesses.
"We all have an interest in a hate-free society," says Graham.