Ten years ago Matthew Shepard died.
For those that don’t know of him, Matthew was a young gay man beaten to death and left to die, tied to a fence in Laramie Wyoming. He was found by a couple hiking, they first mistook him for a scarecrow, and Laramie was thrust into the national news because hate crimes didn’t happen in small town America.
But really, hate crimes happen everywhere.
I had just moved to Laramie that fall to attend the Univ of Wyoming. I had a really hard time adjusting to life away from home and from my family, and thanks to my Mom calling the Minority Affairs Office and asking what resources they had available, I didn’t leave after the first class I attended. I was very, very tempted to! But instead I met other minority students and slowly started feeling comfortable. I made friends and got involved in the American Indian club and the United Multicultural Council. Having always been one to be involved, that made me feel a lot better. I thrived when I was busy with things to do.
And when Matthew died our worlds were thrown into chaos. The UMC and all the other clubs on campus wanted to help in any way we could, help people understand this was not okay, at all. It was especially hard for one of our close friends, an adviser to one of the groups on campus (or she became one anyway) because she worked with a girl who was dating one of the men involved with the crime. But we all wanted to help and show that hate is not okay, that being gay is not a crime. UMC made arm bands – yellow material with green circles painted on them. We bought up or the stores donated all the yellow material in town. We made thousands of arm bands I’m sure, they were passed out all over campus and town. National news stations crawled all over town and set up in the middle of campus. It was a hard time then. We also had protesters come to campus, you’ve heard of the ‘church’ that goes around protesting just about anything and everything, it was them. But the LGBT group on campus made huge angel wings and volunteers stood so the protesters were blocked. It was sickening to see a four year old carrying a sign saying such disgusting things. But the volunteers still stood, the entire time they were there.
I went home that weekend Matthew was found, he was found on a Friday and died on Monday, and couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of what happened. I couldn’t believe that he was killed for being gay, for being who he is as a person. It was a hate crime and brought national attention to an issue that happens everywhere. I remember a couple of family members asking if I felt safe being there.
There were speeches, rallies, and vigils held in those days and weeks. We all struggled to understand why it could have happened. Speeches and rallies happened again when the trial started as that was held in Laramie and again a year after Matthew died. I was president of UMC then and we held a small gathering on the pasture in the middle of campus. I had a hard time finalizing the speech I was supposed to give and had a few friends read it that morning, and I added a few things.
I spoke of tolerance and how we need to not tolerate a person but accept them for who they are. I remember a friend saying “you tolerate a headache, and you take an aspirin to make it go away, how it it okay to tolerate a person?” and I agree. It may be hard to accept a person for who they are, for many reasons, but that is the only way for hate to go away. A few of us spoke that day, and I was second or third to speak. I was so nervous I didn’t remember anyone clapping, but after I talked I stood by a friend who hugged me right when I got to him. Later on he said didn’t I realize that the person who spoke before me talked of tolerance, but after I talked of acceptance people clapped and the other speakers stumbled over their words because they were prepared to talk about tolerance. It is a powerful thing to accept people for who they are because whatever God you believe in, that person was created to be who they are for a reason.
Newsweek Interview with Jim Osborn, then the group leader of the LGBT on campus and now he works for UW
I have a book of poetry written by people in remembrance of Matthew, I read it once in a while. I have a wide variety of friends and reading the book reminds me there is still work to be done. I’ve stopped talking politics online, well in one spot, because I am flat out disgusted at the turn the campaign has taken. I cannot imagine supporting a man who allows people at his rallies to shout hateful terms, who allows his supporters to spew lies about his opponent and to spread racist ideas. That his supporters who are educated and knowledgeable about what he believes in are not standing up and saying we do not agree with this is amazing to me. I’ve rarely not stood up and said what I believe in or what I feel is the right thing, I defend my beliefs though I am in the minority given my husbands job. And if people really believe what I’ve been seeing in various videos online, it is a sad day, again, in our country.
I often ask people to think of their children – if your child came to you and said Mom/Dad, I’m gay – would you not love them? If they said they loved a person of another race, would you not love them? And if your answer is no I wouldn’t love them because I don’t agree, it’s probably time you look inside and think of how you are raising your child. We often think oh that is someone elses child, someone elses brother, someone elses problem – and thinking about the issue and someone we love is hard. But life isn’t meant to be completely easy. Love should be given to your children unconditionally, and everyone out there is someone’s child.