Friday, October 07, 2011

Remembering Matthew Shepard.

Wednesday October 7th, 1998 was a fairly ordinary day in Chicago. I was working for a small consulting firm in the near West suburb of Oak Park, and had spent the day in a series of fairly productive meetings. So I felt pretty good when I got home from work. I was puttering around my apartment making dinner when I picked up the remote control for the TV and turned on CNN. The lead story was a brutal attack of a young man in Laramie Wyoming named Matthew Shepard. Shepard, age 21, had been beaten into a coma and left tied to fence along a rural highway outside the city. The news report noted that the victim was a young gay man and was not expected to survive.

I remember walking down into “boystown” (the north Halstead area of Chicago, and the center of the city’s Gay community). There were lots of people standing around outside the bars, and restaurants along Halsted Street, talking about what had happened in Wyoming. A makeshift memorial had been set up on the corner of Halsted and Roscoe.

I walked into the 7-11 there on the corner and bought a small votive candle, lit it and placed it with the growing number of candles, handwritten notes and flowers that were being placed around a picture of Matthew that someone had printed off the internet. I stayed for a little while talking to people who were gathered there. Some people were angry, others sad, but we all knew that something in our own community had changed as a result of what had happened,  hundreds of miles away in field outside Laramie.

In 1998 I had just moved to Chicago after being overseas in South Korea. I was in the middle of my own “coming out” process,  and was gathering up my courage to have “the talk” with my parents when I went home for Thanksgiving in a few weeks time. I will admit the news of Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder shook me up. Suddenly the decisions I was making to live openly and honestly as who I was, had potentially fatal consequences.

On an intellectual level you always knew that there were “gay bashers” out there. People who were so conflicted about their own sexuality that they felt the way to “cure” themselves was to attack others for what they feared most about themselves. Yet now those hypothetical risks, were not so hypothetical.  What's more, those cosequences now  had a face, and a name.

As I walked home, my thoughts turned to Matthew Shepard’s parents. What must they be thinking and feeling? Had they known Matt was gay? Did it really matter? Years later I would have the great honor of meeting Judy Shepard,  and hear her tell her own powerful story .

Thirteen years later, I marvel at how my own life has changed. I am married to an amazing man, we have incredible friends and loving families who remind us every day,  that the world is not as bleak and dark a place as it seemed,  on that October night in 1998.

Yet I am still saddened and angry that there are many people in America who honestly feel that Matthew Shepard got what “he had coming to him”. That demonizing , discriminating against, and even murdering Gays and Lesbians is somehow “doing God’s work”.

People with a vested interest in keeping LGBT people as the one group it is still safe to hate. People who seek to profit, personally, politically and even economically from fomenting deadly hatred and fear of others. Bigots whose actions and beliefs are the farthest thing from being Christian, yet claim to have a monopoly on what they claim God thinks and who they claim "God hates".

I really don’t have a point to make here, other than to say it’s important to remember Matthew and so many others like him who have died as a result of hatred and bigotry. If you want to get involved, here are a few great places to start...

The Matthew Shepard Foundation: http://www.matthewshepard.org/

The Trevor Project: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation: http://www.standupfoundation.com/

The We Give a Damn Campaign: http://www.wegiveadamn.org/


Thanks,

Dave

2 comments:

The Debunker. said...

It's odd, I was reading about these two poor kids recently and it still amazes me that the US is such a divided society on such basic principles of human dignity.

I mean, how bizarre that US Republicans still treat being gay in th army as some sign of the End Times.

I love the US very much, and that's why as a Londoner it pisses me off so much.

Good blog.

Pax,

David.

Biki said...

when i heard about what they did to matthew, i cried. and then when our son who walks to the tune of his own drummer, as in pink hair, pierced lips, rather femmy clothing, wanted to go to north dakota, i worried the entire year. and it when he told me that he was being harrassed in the local town, i asked him to never go out alone at night, to stay out of the local bars, and to watch his back. he came home in one piece, but changed by the chill of that local society.

i dont understand republicans one tiny bit. how can depriving lgbt of their rights, be that much more important that running our country? why is it so important to rule women to the point of wanting to take birth control completely off the page? they sound like the extremist muslims, only in a diff outfit...