Thirteen years ago, shortly after midnight on October 7, Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die outside Laramie WY. His death on October 12 galvanized the gay community and straight allies. His memorial service was held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Casper WY where he had been an acolyte.
Noah Baron writing at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:
Today marks the 13th anniversary of the brutal and vicious murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student at the University of Wyoming. On this night in 1998, two men lured Matthew into their truck and drove out to an isolated area, where they proceeded to tie him to a fence, beat him mercilessly and repeatedly pistol-whip him with a .357-Magnum handgun as he pled for his life. At around 6:30 p.m. the next day, he was found comatose, still tied to the fence, where he had been left for more than 18 hours in 30-degree weather. The deputy who arrived at the scene later stated that the only part of Matthew’s face where there was no blood was where his tears had washed it away. Matthew was rushed to a hospital, where he died on October 12, 1998.
It is not enough, then, to simply refrain from homophobia or refrain from violence. Rather, we must speak out, to stop the violence, to stanch the blood of our neighbors. Matthew Shepard was not simply a victim at the hands of his attackers; he was the victim at the hands a society that sent the message that who he was as a person was wrong. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” We are all responsible; every additional week that we do not work for justice, every day that passes in which we do not imbue in our children an ethic of acceptance and uprightness, every moment of our silence is an act of violence against our LGBT brothers and sisters.
As the Mishna tells us, “It is not our responsibility to finish the task, but we may not refrain from starting it.” It may be that we will never eradicate homophobia – or Islamophobia, or transphobia, or anti-Semitism – in our lifetimes; the task itself often feels overwhelming. But that is no excuse, for silence is not an option.
Craigkg at Daily Kos, writes about the current status of hate crimes law in Losing Matt: Hate Crimes 13 years later:
Personally I was so devastated by this that in trying to have a catharsis over my grief, I, a nearly broke college student with a car in not so good shape, very nearly decided to drive the 20 hours from Austin, Texas to Casper, Wyoming to be there for his funeral. At the time, I was personally in a war with my parents over their theretofore lack of acceptance of me being gay. I can’t help but think that Matt’s death and them seeing how the death of a person I never knew or knew existed until his life was effectively over could affect me so much helped steer my parents on a course towards acceptance.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act was attached to the defense bill and again it cleared the hurdle and was sent to President Obama, who signed it on October 28, 2009.
I wish that were the end of the story, but unfortunately it is not. Some 709 days after becoming law, the law has yet to be used in any hate bias motivated crime where the bias motivation was the victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation.
h/t to Murdoch Matthew- frequent commenter on the Café