Fiction Beer Company owners Ryan (far right) and Christa Kilpatrick (second from right) welcomed Judy and Dennis Shepard for their Pride kickoff event in Denver on June 5, which featured the launch of a tribute beer to their son Matthew created by head brewer, Dan Blei.
As the head brewer at Fiction Beer Company, Dan Blei decided to employ his unique craft to honor and give back to his community on June 5 in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver. Blei created a hazy, New England-style IPA to help launch a Pride kickoff event hosted by Fiction Beer in collaboration with the Matthew Shepard Foundation (MSF).
The beer’s name, “I am . . .” was inspired by a poem written in the journal of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student whose brutal murder in October 1998 sparked national outrage and prompted enactment of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Blei said he had first heard of the horrendous tragedy when he was a child.
“At that age I hadn’t yet identified as gay, but the story of Matthew Shepard was something I always kept in my heart during my personal journey and struggle with my identity,” Blei said. “It’s easy to focus on the tragic event and feel fear about what the future may hold for yourself and the ones you love. But the Matthew Shepard Foundation has really made something beautiful from a horrible event.”
The fundraiser came together through a long history of friendship between Dana Juniel, MSF director of strategy and communications, and Ryan and Christa Kilpatrick, owners of Fiction Beer.
Christa Kilpatrick, a Colorado native, was a junior in high school when Matthew died. She recalled the media blitz that followed his death and the profound impact of then reading The Laramie Project in college.
“For me, words are everything,” said Kilpatrick, who attended Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, a town not far from Laramie, Wyoming. “Reading Matthew’s story through the lens of Moisés Kaufman [and members of the Tectonic Theater Project] was gut-wrenching and had its intended effect to move millions of readers into action.”
Kilpatrick attributes much of the progress of LGBTQ rights to Judy and Dennis Shepard, the parents of Matthew, and those they inspire through their activism.
“As a parent myself, I would struggle, stumble and succumb to my grief if it were me,” she said. “The Shepard family didn’t do that. They created a movement and enacted real change. I’m in awe of that.”
Aligning Your Company’s Vision and Values with Causes
Fiction Beer Company’s philanthropy is primarily focused on literacy and writing non-profits, plus other causes meaningful to their diverse staff. The collaborative Pride event provided a keen and creative opportunity for the couple to engage with their community and make an impact.
WorldatWork CEO Scott Cawood attended the jam-packed event after being indelibly moved by his discussion with Judy Shepard at his organization’s Workplace Equity Virtual Forum in May. He echoed the sentiments of Dan Blei and Christa Kilpatrick, saying he was “most struck by Judy’s ability to turn a horrible incident into something that is trying to make a better world for others.”
WorldatWork CEO Scott Cawood and Judy Shepard reunite at a Pride event hosted by Fiction Beer Company in Denver.
“You must admire the strength it took to do that, as I’m not sure many, including myself, could have done it,” he said.
Cawood is naturally drawn to “great people doing meaningful work” and believes a foundation that exists to “erase hate” is a cause worth supporting in any way he can.
Judy’s ability to capture the public’s attention via her son’s heartbreaking story also serves as a reminder that “leaders come in many different forms, and leadership emerges from a variety of circumstances,” he said.
Cawood said he attended the event as both a friend of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the CEO of an organization “committed to taking action, showing up, and doing what it can to help make the world a great place to work.”
Cawood is clearly not alone in his passion for the cause, as evidenced by the packed Pride event, with an extremely diverse group of people including teachers, parents, local college students, and, of course, beer lovers.
He is walking proof that CEOs are no different than anyone else. They all have causes they support and celebrate, and they all fit into the categories of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). What they say and do are increasingly scrutinized and that level of intensity is likely to only heighten.
“Staying silent on social issues will create just as many issues as if you speak out,” he said. “This could be a great thing if you are hoping to use your voice to drive change on issues, but it also could be challenging if what you’re saying isn’t well received by your employees, board, or customers.”
Companies do not have opinions, Cawood said. They don’t exhibit behaviors. They don’t believe or disbelieve things, nor do they inherently take positions on things. Only people in organizations can express opinions, behaviors, beliefs and positions.
“This may be semantics but it’s important when you try to get to the core of what a company like Target, Starbucks or Costco ‘believes,’” he said. “As entities, they can’t believe anything, but their leaders can use their resources as a way to exhibit beliefs or take action.”
Does the fact that Target sells Pride clothing in June every year make them a corporate ally to the sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) community?
“Not in isolation of other manifestations of support, including how it treats its employees who may or may not identify from that community,” Cawood answered.
Employees today expect their leaders to know how to navigate a complicated business and societal landscape. Transparency and voice (or a lack thereof) will be on display.
“Organizations would be smart to add impact to their goals instead of continuing to chase only profit as the key performance indicator,” Cawood said. “Each company can affect the economy and society in new and exciting ways, and I hope [leaders] are willing to say what needs to be said even if not everyone agrees.”
Christa Kilpatrick agrees wholeheartedly.
“If you can’t donate monetarily, donate your time,” she said. “Select non-profits that align with your company’s vision.”
Editor’s note: In 2021, the Matthew Shepard Foundation partnered with luxury jewelry brand, Marco Dal Maso, on a limited edition Pride Ring that can be found at Holt Renfrew, Neiman Marcus, Borsheims, and Hyde Park.
MSF is always open to new proposals by committed partners inspired by its efforts to Erase Hate. MSF reviews each fundraising opportunity individually to determine whether it's a good fit for its brand and appropriate for its segment of supporters. Companies interested in collaborating with MSF should contact its Development department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Dan Cafaro is the director of publications at WorldatWork