But her travels — and the anniversary of her son's death — take their toll. Sitting in her hotel room at the Essex House in New York City, she is preparing for a benefit concert that night on behalf of the foundation. She knows her activism is helping others in the gay community. But she is never able to escape — or take much comfort from — the painful irony that her tragedy fuels her notoriety and mission.
"It's something I think about all the time," Mrs. Shepard told ABCNEWS.com. "The fact that something tragic happened to me and my family and the only reason I'm getting to meet these important people and the only reason these people care is because something horrible happened to me. … The only thing I can tell myself is that things happened for a reason. I have yet to figure out what that reason is, but things happen for a reason. I have to tell myself that."
Mrs. Shepard said that she was largely unaware of many issues facing the gay community five years ago. She and her family wanted to keep their grief private. But then they realized Matthew's death had larger implications and they had to take on a larger mission.
"At first we thought it was a family matter, just between us," Mrs. Shepard said. "We didn't realize the scope. At first, we thought it [the media attention] was invasive, and we were resentful. But then we realized Matthew's murder was something representative of the whole gay community."
Since Shepard's death, gays and lesbians — at least in the mainstream media — seem to have become more widely accepted. There is greater awareness of gay culture, and gays have been represented in hit shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Six Feet Under.
In addition, 29 states now recognize sexual orientation in their hate crime laws — and more are considering including provisions against gay bias in their laws.
But mainstream exposure and legal protection have not ensured acceptance and safety of the gay community. FBI statistics indicate hate crimes against gays and lesbians are increasing.
According to the FBI's most recent statistics, the number of hate crimes reported overall between 2000 and 2001 rose from 8,063 to 9,730 while the number of hate crimes based on sexual orientation rose slightly from 1,299 to 1,393.
"Unfortunately, progress and more exposure does make gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders more of a target for those who feel threatened and just don't want to hear anything about it," said Renna. "It's just an unfortunate reality that people have to be prepared for."
Despite the statistics, not everyone agrees that gays and lesbians need specific legislation to protect them.
Wyoming — the state where Shepard was killed — does not have a hate crime law that covers sexual orientation. As it is, Wyoming is one of four states that do not have any hate crime legislation whatsoever.
Police Chief O'Malley, who has lobbied for federal hate crime legislation that includes sexual orientation, hopes to present a bill for a sexual orientation hate crime law to the Wyoming state legislature before the end of the year. Based on past failures, he's not confident about its passage.
"I'm not holding my breath," he said. "We are a very conservative state."