Beaupedia

Man Under Construction

By

Still Matthew

After all of these years I just found out that Matthew Shepard was a tiny 5’2″ in height. A bit in the news from Orlando’s Pulse massacre got me reading about him again and it broke my heart anew.

I remember being absolutely devastated by his story as a scared 15 year old with no hope of being able to tell anyone in my life who I really was or what I was dealing with. Matthew was me and I there wasn’t much hope.

Home was certainly unwelcoming for who I really was, I would find no solace there, and with Matthew’s murder it seemed the world was also against me. There were so many times I saw no possible positive future for myself.

I genuinely believed I was the only gay person in my town of 32,000 people. I thought there were maybe 7 or 8 gay people in my entire state of 4 and a half million. I was very, very alone.

I persevered because regardless of my own inevitable unhappiness, I wanted to be able to make a difference in other people’s lives. I bounced around a bit on what I wanted to be: a high school counselor, a teacher, a youth pastor, and ultimately a social worker, but it was always my hope to be able to help adolescents. That remains something I still hope for today, and have been able to put into action in many ways, though not yet as a career.

I have vivid memories from a couple years after Matthew’s murder of sneaking off to my parent’s bedroom when MTV aired their “Anatomy of a Hate Crime” movie about his murder. I pretended to be watching the news when my mom checked in to see what I was doing, making fast use of the “last” button on the remote control to cover myself. I sat on the edge of my parents’ bed trying to keep my tears to a minimum in case one of them walked in.

I felt like my chest was imploding from grief while feeling as though the rest of me were going to explode from the effort it took to prevent all out sobs. I wept for Matthew, but I also cried because there was a community at home and around the world that loved him and accepted him and didn’t think he deserved death as my church and my family had taught me he and all gays did. It was a glimmer of hope that I desperately needed. I wish I could beam a message back to that kid and tell him how much better things would get. To let him know that the community that loves him unconditionally is so much larger and stronger and warmer than he could possibly imagine, and to just hang on.

I read a series of tweets from an older lesbian earlier who was distraught over the Pulse massacre and recounted Stonewall and how the different generations after her have had their own symbols, including Matthew Shepard. Someone in the comments indicated they were in their early 20s and remarked that they had to look up who Matthew Shepard was because they had never heard of him. I guess it never occurred to me that there are young adults alive now who have never heard Matthew’s name. I don’t know why, but that hit me as incredibly tragic. It’s important to remember the names, the faces, the stories – they are all a part of our DNA as a community and a society and a reminder to work toward the kind of world we want for our children.

And though I never knew him, I will always mourn Matthew. I imagine the man he’d be today, that tiny, fragile frame having filled out some with age as he approached his 40th birthday this year. I wouldn’t know him, and that would be just fine because he’d be out there in the world happy and fulfilled living an ordinary life, not fated to being anyone’s tragic symbol.

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Judy and the Legacy of Matthew Shepard

This past Monday I had the good fortune to hear Judy Shepard speak on Auraria Campus as a part of her work with The Matthew Shepard Foundation.  11 years after Matthew’s terrible murder she is still traveling around the nation passionately educating on equality.  Through her incredible perseverance and strength she has served as an inspiration to me from the time I was a terrified, closeted teen.

I remember hearing the news at a time when I was still very closeted, wanting to believe that what I was experiencing was a phase.  The people in my life, family, church, etc. all viewed Matthew’s murder with no hint of sympathy.  He was a “faggot” and got what was coming to him, was the general belief.  It’s hard to even type those words, but we all know those mindsets exist, and if you don’t you should get with reality.

I outwardly followed along with their detestable views, but inside I was heartbroken.  I remember when MTV produced a film about Matthew, I couldn’t very well watch it in the living room, so I went into my parents’ bedroom to watch it.  When my mom would come by to see what I was watching, I’d quickly flip to, of all places, Fox News.  I sat in that bedroom in front of the TV, fighting tears and listening closely for approaching footsteps.

As I began typing this I realized that I’ve lived to be 5 years older than Matthew was when he died.  It feels extremely unfair.

The world is a very different place than it was when Matthew was murdered.  Since then Judy has marched, and rallied and spoken hundreds of times.  She has lobbied on Capitol Hill and stood by as very important pieces of legislation have been signed.

I was lucky enough to march with her as we stood outside of the Focus on the Family campus.  I listened as she told them to stop attacking our families, to stop causing so much hurt, to stop encouraging hatred.  I watched as she approached representatives from Focus on the Family and presented them with an album filled with photos of LGBT families, families that Focus on the Family dismisses as illegitimate.

In her speech this past Monday Judy answered a question I have had for 11 years.  Did she support Matthew before he died?  The answer is unequivocally yes.  When Matthew came out to her, she had already known, just her mother’s intuition she guesses.  There was also the fact that as a child he dressed as Dolly Parton several Halloweens in a row, she told us all with a laugh.

She spoke about her entire family and their support of him.  Matthew’s father accepted and supported him as well.  It’s funny how over the years, I’ve wondered about this more than anything.  Did Matthew die knowing that his family loved him unconditionally and that they accepted him for who he was.  I’m relieved and happy to know that the answer is a very strong “YES”.

Judy, thank you.  Thank you for Matthew, thank you for letting us all get to know him, thank you for keeping his memory alive.  Thank you for fighting prejudice and hatred.  Thank you for saying “we” when you speak about the LGBT community.  Thank you for taking your grief and turning it into something so powerful.

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Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Finally!  11 years after Matthew Shepard’s death, the legislation bearing his name has finally made it through Congress and on to the President’s desk.  The Republicans, of course, fought it all along the way but despite their best efforts America has arrived in the 21st century.  It saddens me that Senator Kennedy isn’t here to see this come to fruition, after all of his years fighting for it.

I do wish that the bill could have been sent through Congress on its own accord, but attaching it to a defense bill was the safest bet for getting it through and the Democrats did the right thing in doing so.

 

 

 

Matthew’s parents Judy and Dennis have worked tirelessly to see this happen and I have enormous respect for both of them.  I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Judy at a Soulforce event protesting Focus on the Family and their hurtful, dangerous rhetoric.  She was incredibly sweet and genuine and my heart broke all over again for this women who was thrust into a role that no parent would ever wish for.  Hate took her son from her she chose to go on and fight that hate,  She is my personal hero because of it.

 

 

 

Today as I watched the above videos I stumbled upon this great video which contains the statement that Dennis Shepard gave during the trial of one of Matthew’s murderers.  The audio is from the movie “The Laramie Project”.  It is incredibly moving.