Watch: My Friend Mathew Shepard
On our way to Cheyanne, we pulled off the highway to visit Laramie, Wyoming, home of the University of Wyoming. At the center of the lovely green and shady campus is a plain brown bench, no different from any other bench on campus. On the bench is a plaque dedicated to the memory of Mathew Shepard, gay man murdered in Laramie over 20 years ago. His murder, for a variety of reasons, gained national attention.
And this specific murder, the loss of this young man’s life, became a catalyst for the development and in some cases passing of new hate crime laws in the United States. For the first time in my own lifetime, our nation had homophobia and hate crimes on the legislative agenda at a national level. Our nation was talking. In dialogue over how to make life safer for gay and lesbian Americans. How could we create greater safeguards to ensure the life, liberty, and happiness of all who reside here. Safeguards to protect people from homophobia.
I steamed, via Amazon, “My Friend Mathew Shepard” to refresh my knowledge of his story. You can rent it for 30 days for $5. I highly recommend the documentary, made by one of his high school friends. It covers not just his death, tells us the story of his life. In learning more about his life, I was taken by the notion that what Matt wanted most in life was home and community. When he was struggling in life, when he needed home, a centering place-he went back to where he and his parents and grandparents came from. Wyoming, one of the most least populated states in the country. It feels spacious and empty. Dry and clean. One of windiest places in the country too.
Matt sought home. He needed to settle down. So he moved from the big city of Denver back to his home state. He registered at his state school and was working to build his adult life in the safest and most familiar place he could find. And this was where he was murdered. By people he trusted. Within his own community.
I too come from a small state college town. Our family lives in a small state college town. It is a wonderful place to build a life. Laramie too seemed like a quiet, serene, warm and comfortable place to live. But not safe for Matt. Because of who he was born to be in this world-an smart, kind, loving gay man who wanted to live in Wyoming.
Matt was not able to go home. His home, his place of comfort and peace, was also a place of danger and hostility. Violence.
I want to build an America in which every LGBTQ individual can live where they come from. Where they grew up. And raise their own kids there too. If they choose that life. If that is what they want for themselves.
My fear for this country is that too many people will be pushed out of their homes because of equal rights laws for LGBTQ Americans being rolled back. I can foresee certain parts of the country being safe for some people, a very scary place for others. Where discrimination and violence becomes the cultural norm. Not just accepted but celebrated. I know it is like this already in some places-but I am afraid it will get worse with the rollback of laws.
So we can’t allow for that to happen. We can’t allow for homophobia to become the law of the land. For the culture of homophobia, which is core to the patriarchy, to become increasingly powerful in our country. We have to push back. We cannot accept a climate in which some people grow up and can never return home again because of bigotry.
Mathew Shepard deserves a much better bench. A bench in the middle of his town, his home, that acknowledges and fully names him a man whose Divine spark was taken because of bigotry. Names his dreams and his suffering-his truth.
Mathew Shepard. He could have run for President in 2020. He could have the the beat Trump. He could have be the first gay man in the White House. Or he could have become a high school civics teacher in Laramie. He could have settled down with a nice man and had a couple of kids. And raised his kids in the place he knew as his home. Maybe his kids would have also gone to the University of Wyoming. And he would have stood arm in arm with his husband watching his own children graduate from his Alma Mater, and that of his parents.
He would be 42 today. Half-life. Peak life. May his memory be a blessing. And a sign and reminder of what is possible for our country. A place all people can truly call home.
My blessings for all LGBTQ young Americans out there. May you always be able to go home. And find safety and comfort. May you be able to build a life in the place of your best childhood memories. To look out the window and see the vast plains, the mountains, the valleys, the coastline, the city lights. May this land be your land too.