Another year, another Matthew Shepard article
The murder of Matthew Shepard was 14 years ago yesterday. In 1998 I was eight years old, probably had a vague idea that there was such a thing as being “gay”, and would not learn about Matthew Shepard for years to come. I would not have known that he was raped three years prior to his murder, contributing to drugs and depressions in his college years. I would not known that he was robbed, tortured, assaulted severely, and tied to a fence to die by two people who had said they would give him a ride home. I would not have known about the Westboro Baptist Church; that they held signs at his funeral saying “Fag Matt in Hell.”
The controversy of the ensuing trial has been well documented: the defendants’ attempt at a “gay panic defense” [claiming to have been made psychotic by the offensiveness of a gay sexual advance]; inability to prosecute as a hate-crime. Ultimately, McKinney and Henderson both received life-sentences, which seems fair to me. And yet discussion of Matthew Shepard continues.
Yesterday evening a close friend shared with me a powerfully emotional spoken-word poem, “Eleven Years” by Sierra DeMulder (written last year). It is highly worth a listen for anyone who enjoys spoken word. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5RbcdO38pk) DeMulder vividly describes how Shepard was found tied to a post, mistaken for a scarecrow, and makes an emotional connection with her family.
Would there be any difference from 1998 Wyoming to 2012 Pennsylvania? In a sense, Matthew Shepard’s case has had an impact here, as area universities have staged productions of The Laramie Project and his case has been written about in a myriad articles like this one. What hasn’t changed is that people are still dying for being LGBTQ. Let’s hope that there will never be another case quite as gruesome as Matthew Shepard’s. Let’s also not forget about the bullying and harassment that had lead Pennsylvanians to take their owns lives. And once we combat bullying, let’s not stop until we have combated homelessness and inaccessible healthcare and all of the other barriers to safe and meaningful lives for the everyone in the LGBTQ community.
Ben Safran is a senior at Haverford College in Delaware County, PA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.