Bullying Part Of Civil Rights Conference
“Bully” capped off the South Dakota Civil Rights Conference Monday. The event brought in state and national civil rights leaders, including “Bully” director Lee Hirsch and Judy Shepard, who’s son’s murder inspired a change in federal law.
“It’s opening up conversations — almost 100 messages a day saying, ‘We talked to our 11 year-old, 12 year-old, 13 year-old and they shared in ways we’ve never been able to talk as a family before,’” Hirsch said.
“Bully” follows students and their families for a year. Hirsch says his childhood experiences are what connected him to the story.
“There’s a lot of heart in the film, but you really live with a seventh grader from Sioux City,” he said. “And there’s relevance to people here.”
“Kids handle things in different ways. Sometimes they can diffuse it with humor. It just depends on the child and what kind of support they have. But don’t go through this alone. Don’t even try do to this by yourself,” said Matthew Shepard Foundation founder Judy Shepard.
Judy Shepard’s son, Matthew, was tortured and murdered because he was gay. The 1998 incident in Laramie, Wyoming put Shepard in the national spotlight, and set his mother on a mission advocating for gay rights.
“Every place I tell it, I try and focus on what we can do now so it doesn’t happen again, rather than talk about the event when Matt was killed,” Shepard said. “We need to move on past the event in the future and do what we can to make it better.”
Shepard shared that story with a full house Monday at the Civil Rights conference. A 2009 federal hate crime law bears her son’s name.
“I don’t think anyone thought 13-14 years later we’d be doing it,” she said.
But Shepard is still talking. Often times those listening are are not old enough to remember her son’s murder. But problems haven’t gone away and “Bully” illustrates that.
“I believe we’re at a tipping point,” said Hirsch. “I believe this generation of Americans will be the ones that put bullying in our rear-view mirror.”
“Bully” opens to general Sioux Falls audiences Friday.