Thursday, April 15, 2010

Remembering Matthew Shepard


I recently took a road trip by myself to the beautiful state of Colorado for the conferences aforementioned in this blog. The conferences were amazing and I got to know some of the most amazing people in my life.

laramie project A set of unexpected consequences aligned prior to the trip. I decided to drive and to do so alone. On the way there, however, I passed through—of all places—Laramie, Wyoming—the site of the brutal beating of Matthew Shepard. Having seen The Laramie Project the week before and taken a class on the psychology of memorial sites, I decided to take a little detour when I realized my trip was ahead of schedule.

I headed into town looking for a memorial for the man beaten and left for dead solely based on the fact that he was gay. In a few moments, I’d found myself on his college campus in a parking lot next to the library thinking, Twelve years ago, he was here. This is where he studied, where he hung out with friends and met boys, where he went to class….

On Oct. 9, 1998, Shepard was found beaten and bloodied. As reporter James Brooke described the moment:

“At first, the passing bicyclist thought the crumpled form lashed to a ranch fence was a scarecrow. But when he stopped, he found the burned, battered and nearly lifeless body of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student who had been tied to the fence 18 hours earlier.”

When I saw the movie and heard the first hand descriptions of the police officer who arrived on the scene, of his best friend, of the local business owners, and of the local clergy. As I looked around and got a feel for the campus and the town, I didn’t notice much difference from my own campus in Utah.


People clearly held diverse sets of views and interests. It was a place like any other campus I’d been. Students were studying in the library and playing frisbee barefoot on the grass among the abstact sculptures.

After a quick stop in the library and asking a few questions, I came to the memorial. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected. A simple bench with a plaque just thawed out from the Wyoming winter:


What was I to make of something so simple for something that so incredibly incomprehensible. Taking the advice of the plaque on the bench, I sat down to think about it for a while: Shouldn’t it have been something grander? Something more artistic? Something so generic?

When I thought things through, though, I came to the conclusion that maybe it was a great testament to who he was and what happened. He was a man like any other. The only thing that made him different was the fact that he was attracted to men and that he accepted that. Wouldn’t a memorial with an everyday quality and a thoughtful inscription be a deserving tribute?


Whether you view yourself as a child of God, a common human being, or as a citizen of the world, none of us are any different from Matthew. He was singled out for being gay like someone could be targeted for being an immigrant or having a stutter or converting to another religion. Each of us are unique because (whether for biological or spiritual reasons) we were meant to be and in that we are all the same.

We are all equal and should acknowledge that by showing each other love and respect.



Cole said...

Thank you, GMB.

Unknown said...

The bench marker does seem inadequate for all that Matthew did and all the results that came from his tragic death. I really respect his mother for all that she has done. Finally, after over a decade, a gay inclusive hate crimes bill was passed.

naturgesetz said...

That is so moving and so poignant — "Beloved Son Brother and Friend."

Yes, that is what matters. The fact that this beloved son, brother, and friend has been taken from them is what brings tears to my eyes. That he happened to be gay is not what was important to those to whom he was beloved son, brother, and friend. And it should not have been important to those he met on the the last night of his life.

Yes, like you, I would have expected something bigger and more unusual. But it is its very simplicity and ordinariness which makes me feel the tragedy of his murder

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

Oh, Cole. You're welcome.

@green and purple: That family has been a real inspiration. That's for sure.

@naturgesetz: It was a lot to process in the moment. Sitting there was an experience I think I'll return to in my writing.

Justin said...

Oh, here it is. Thanks for sharing the pictures. I feel like I have so many things to ask you.

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