matthew shepard, 1976 - 1998

15 October 1998

The brutal beating and death of Matthew Shepard has left many of us out West shaken up and wondering how the hell this could happen where we live. Sadly, I have no illusions about the fact that this CAN happen anywhere, even in Laramie, Wyoming, because Laramie is populated by human beings. And human beings are the same pretty much everywhere. We are capable of unbelievable acts of kindness and love, but we also can commit unspeakably vile crimes against God and each other. I think the reason this has garnered national attention is because (1) it happened in a small town whose normal campus police report includes items like textbook theft and false fire alarms, and (2) Matthew was gay.

matthew shepard Now, gay people have been having to put up with this kind of harrassment for years, and anyone who tells you differently is smoking something. If you know any gay, lesbian or bisexual people at all, you probably already know this. (If you think you don't know any GLB folks who have been hassled, pushed around and generally put out for being gay, ask me and I'll introduce you to several.) Even in 1998, in our supposedly "enlightened" American society, stuff like this still does happen.

But I don't think this is a "gay" issue. If this is looked back on in our collective memory as the time some gay guy was killed in Wyoming, we all lose. Why? Because the average, middle-class 40-something taxpayer may not know anyone who is gay. They may have an impression in their mind of what the Gay Man of the Nineties is like, probably formed from seeing demonstrations by radical gay rights groups (that they can't possibly relate to) on the nightly news. What are they going to remember about Matt if that's the focus of this whole tragedy? Are they going to remember Matt because his friends love him and his family grieves for him daily? Or are they going to say, "Well, just another queer... he really should have gone back to San Francisco with the rest of them"?

Would you like to be remembered as a stereotype? Mr. and Mrs. Midwest America, listen up: This isn't about "some queer" that you can't understand. This isn't even about our "it couldn't happen in Laramie" mentality. This is about a clean-cut, polite young man who, from all accounts, was a wonderful human being; this is about that young man no longer being around to tell his family and friends he loves them, because he has been brutally murdered by a pair of lowlife scum with nothing better to do with their sorry lives. We need to get over our preoccupation with Matt's private life and call this what it is: a HUMAN issue. Yes, it's horrifying that the ones who did this more than likely picked on Matt because he was small in stature - an easy target - and, from all indications, tied him to a fence post and beat him to death because they didn't like the fact that Matt was gay. It's outrageous, it makes my blood boil, and it certainly brings to light the harrassment that gay people have to put up with sometimes. But would it be any more horrible if this crime had been motivated by anything else? Robbery, perhaps?

I'm thinking no.

I'm thinking no, because regardless of what was going through the killers' minds at the time, Matthew Shepard is dead. He's not coming back. This isn't the most sickening crime of the year in Wyoming because of Matthew's sexuality; it's because Matt was a wonderful human being who is already sorely missed by those who love him. THAT is what I think we need to focus on. Matt wasn't some weirdo out West; he was a son, a friend, a brother, a classmate. He could have been my younger brother under different circumstances. So for those of you who are whispering to each other, "The fag deserved it... just another queer eliminated" (and I know you're out there), think about it this way: He could have been someone you know and hold dear. He could have been your son or your brother or your best friend. Focus on that, and ask yourself what you're going to remember about the murder of Matthew Shepard.