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.
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.
Now 16 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.
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/
The "It Gets Better" Project: http://www.itgetsbetter.org/