Laramie, Wyoming, a city that has been on my list to visit for many years A city that unfortunately for the last 15 years has had connotations for being infamous. Matthew Shepard, a young gay college student was brutally murdered there in the fall of 1998. Tortured and murdered simply because he was gay. It was an event that deeply impacted not just me, but the entire world.
We always want to ask why and how these things happen when they do, but it’s really not that hard to figure out when we look at our world today. So much fear, hatred, divisiveness, intolerance, xenophobia, homophobia, etc.
It’s painful when atrocities occur anywhere in the world, but I think we really get a visceral experience of suffering when they hit home. I have often thought, were if not for grace, I could easily have been Matthew Shepard. As gay men, we don’t even really have to do much to find ourselves in a life threatening situation. Sometimes just walking down the street next to our partner is enough to invite attack. I never hold my partner Danny’s hand in public without being aware of that potential reality.
So as I sat on the commemorative bench at the University of Wyoming, and as I visited the actual site of the murder, I was overcome with emotion. Sadness for the loss of such a beautiful young man. Sadness for how he suffered unimaginable pain and humiliation from being beaten to death while tied to a fence. I put myself there on that fence with him, and tried to imagine what that must have been like.
I thought about his killers. How could they do this? I wanted to hate them. I wanted them to suffer the way they had caused Matthew to suffer. But then I remembered so vividly a time in my life when I wanted to carry out the same type of attack on myself. I wanted to make all the gay stuff go away, in any way that I could. Suddenly, I found that I could relate to these guys, at least to their hatred and fear. I just went down a different road with it. I was fortunate enough to have been surrounded by love from others when I couldn’t love myself. Grace.
There was a lot of healing that took place that day as I sat there and tried to absorb all that had happened. I’m so glad I got to connect with Matthew’s spirit. To pay my respects, and to express my gratitude for his life and his contribution. That brutally cold night in October 1998 was an unspeakable tragedy. It’s etched into our collective consciousness. But there is comfort in it as well. Comfort in knowing how awareness, compassion, and activism have sprung forth from it.
Can we create a world where tragedies like this can never happen again? We must.
May we be deeply and unshakably committed to love, compassion, and kindness.