Gay activists in America are urging people across the world to vote for Judy Shepard, who has been chosen as a finalist in the fifth “Volvo For Life” awards.

Mrs Shepard, Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, has become one of America’s most vocal advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.

The foundation was created by Dennis and Judy Shepard in memory of their 21-year old son, Matthew, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998.

Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney are currently serving life sentences for the murder.

If Mrs Shepard is selected, she will receive a Volvo car for life and $50,000 will be awarded to fund the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s youth-focused work.

Matthew’s murder was a watershed moment in the perceptions of LGBT people in America.

Then-President Bill Clinton tried to extend federal hate crime legislation to include gay and lesbian people in the aftermath of his death, but ultimately was defeated by Congress.

Created to honour their murdered son in a manner that was appropriate to his dreams, beliefs and aspirations, the foundation aims to, “replace hate with understanding, compassion acceptance,” through its varied educational programs and by continuing to tell Matthew’s story.

The “Volvo For Life” awards honour heroes from across America, and were devised by the Swedish-owned car manufacturer five years ago.

Gregory Lewis, managing director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, said in a statement to PinkNews.co,uk, “Judy is extremely honoured to be nominated for the Volvo for Life award and is grateful for the outpouring of support that the community has given her throughout the years.

“We also commend Volvo for their on-going and substantive support to groups working for LGBT equality.”

Anyone can vote for Judy Shepard and the foundation at www.volvoforlifeawards.com or by visiting the foundation’s website at www.MatthewShepard.org.

Individuals are allowed to vote as often as possible before the contest end on February 4.