Ten years ago today*

Ten years ago today, twenty-one-year-old college student Matthew Shepard was found, beaten, bloodied, comatose, and tied to a fence, near Laramie, Wyoming.  He died five days later, October 12, 1998, in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Cathy Renna speaks for many of us in her Bilerico piece today on him (and all those lost to hate violence), when she says, of the police officer who was brought to the scene:

Her words in the Laramie Project – that “the only part of his face not covered in blood were where he had been crying” haunt me to this day.

Everyone for whom his name rings a bell knows he was murdered because he was gay, and his murderers were overwhelmed by their own fear and loathing (of him; of themselves).

For those unfamiliar with his name, you might review the website of the foundation his parents founded in his honor, or the Wikipedia page on him.  Or the hate crimes bill named after him.  Or The Laramie Project, the stunning theater piece constructed of testimony by residents of that town, a place known previously only to residents of southeastern Wyoming, and folks traveling east or west along the high plain states.

from the photostream of vambo25

Laramie, Wyoming, by Peter Thody. On his Flickr photoset vambo25.

The beloved and I had no choice but to dine in Laramie once.  We were on a summertime cross-country road trip, not a year after the murder.  We had no idea on what fence, exactly, he was found — surely a rural one, and not those lining interstate highway 80.  But as the beloved drove us closer and closer to town, all I could do was stare out the window in the waning light, and watch the undulating bands of fencing, and wonder, and wonder.  

My teeth were on edge when we entered town in need of dinner. We chose Applebees, someplace with a lot of cars parked out in front, someplace that looked suitably recognizable, suitably — what was it we were looking for?–  suitably safe.  Inside, it was both dark and light at the same time.  Some kind of color was radiating from somewhere.  Was it neon, above a salad bar?  Or a television, above a regular bar? I can’t even remember now.

We were stared at a bit, as usual (okay; I was stared at, the mannish lesbian: that’s who always gets the stares).   But what we hadn’t expected was this: the hostess was inordinately kind.  Inordinately.  The waitress was extremely gracious.  Extremely.  We received more sweet, delicate, tender service that night than we had received since two states to the west of us (and than we would receive again for another two states to the east).  They smiled warm, genuine smiles. 

Usually, under circumstances like that, I’m the one who initiates the warmth, trying to find it and draw it out from the other (as if to say: “See?  There’s a part of you that is ready to feel okay about me and my kind!  Right there!  See?  That’s it!  Now doesn’t that feel better?”). But that night I was too sick to my stomach to smile first.  Lo and behold, it was the young waitstaff at Applebees who did.

The young people of Laramie knew we knew about their town before we even drove into it.  City slickers with out of state written all over them.  And, it seemed to me, what the hostess and the waitress and even some of the other young folks there taking a second look at us wanted to convey, was this: “Hate put our town on the map.  But love is going to change it.”


Four weeks today to the election, people.  Do you really think that the same cord doesn’t stretch between anti-gay hate crimes and anti-gay marriage positions? It may be a long cord, but it’s the same one.  Now if you haven’t helped out with my No on 8 fundraising thing, would you consider giving even a little?  Like, the amount of a tip at an Applebee’s dinner, maybe?  And then please pass it on.


* UPDATED to include text from an urgent email from Geoff Kors, of No on 8:

Our worst nightmares are coming true.  

Today we learned of the massive $25.4 million our opponents have raised so far. They are using this war chest to broadcast lies: 24/7 and up and down the state of California.

And the polls show the lies are working. We need your donation now.

Yesterday’s CBS 5  poll shows that: 

“…likely California voters overall now favor passage of Proposition 8 by a five-point margin, 47 percent to 42 percent. Ironically, a CBS 5 poll eleven days prior found a five-point margin in favor of the measure’s opponents.”

People change their minds about Proposition 8 when they hear the lie that churches will lose their tax-free status if they won’t marry same-sex couples — EVEN THOUGH THIS IS NOT TRUE!

So this is crunch time. With less than a month before the election, we must get on the air now to answer these lies and swing votes back to our side. 

And the ONLY way to do that is to raise more money.  The generous $15.8 million that our supporters have given isn’t enough. Not when the other side has nearly $10 million more than we do and the fundraising gap is growing.

So, how much will you sacrifice to protect your equality or the equality of people you love? It’s that simple. Will you give up something, anything, to ensure equality?

I am. I’m donating 15% of my income to make sure that the No on Prop 8 campaign can answer these lies.  It’s going to make my life more difficult to make a donation of this size — but I know I have to make this sacrifice to achieve victory on November 4.

What are you willing to give up today so we can protect our community from this pack of televised lies: A night out? A vacation you had planned? A home improvement project?

I ask you to do what you can. Donate to defeat Prop 8. Work the phone banks. And urge everyone you know to vote NO on Prop 8. 

Because if we are not willing to sacrifice, we will not win.


fight [next in this marraige equality series: Marriage equality and family support]

9 thoughts on “Ten years ago today*”

  1. This is an amazing story — powerful enough to bring tears to my eyes at the office desk. This world is a two-sided place, isn’t it? And often fraught with the unexpected, be that bad or good.

    One of the things I did not expect, upon moving to California earlier this year, was how heart-touched I would be by the Prop 8 debate. I have friends who married in Canada, given no other option in Iowa, so it’s not like I haven’t been aware of the issue. But that issue alone is making me so proud to be voting in this state this year. Yes, perhaps if I’d left my voter registration active in Iowa, I could have voted in a swing state. But I’d rather vote here, where I can make a difference on a basic human issue that so deeply affects people I care about.

  2. I too found myself touched to tears at my desk – apparently I can read all sorts of stories about hate, violence, and bigotry, but it is acts of gentle kindnes such as these that bring me to tears…

    Thank you for sharing this story – it says so much about where we’ve been and also where we can go…

  3. Thank you both. I so agree, inadvertentgardener, about what the world is so filled with (pleasure/pain; love/hate; cruelty/kindness). I still can’t decide if I think one outnumbers the other, but I do think that the one (as you say, pleasantstreets moves us more. As well it should.

    Oh, and welcome to California, i.g.

  4. Oh, do I ever remember that. I lived about 2 hours away from there, maybe less, when it happened. I had my 6 month old baby in my arms, and I remember just crying, wondering what sort of world I’d brought him into. What if that were MY son? On either side of the story?

    I swore that day I’d not only teach him tolerance, but pure love. For others, no matter what life they lead, and for himself, same conditions.

    Thanks for putting this out there.

  5. It’s been a somber day for me, as I remember how much – and in some ways how little – has changed in a decade. In my own life, much has changed. And much has not.

    Having grown up in a rural town a few hours from Laramie, events of October 1998 are embedded in my consciousness for a variety of reasons. I posted about it earlier today. I think I’ll update that post now and link back here.

    “Hate put our town on the map. But love is going to change it.” Yes. Yes yes yes, indeed.

  6. Thank you both. Your comment, Mr Lady, reminds me of the most pathos-ridden moment in the opera made of Sister Helen Prejean’s story, Dead Man Walking. The mother of the killer leaves the courtroom where she’d been seeking a pardon for him, and her solo song of grief outside joins that of the four parents of the murdered young man and woman. All I remember was a canon (alas, not available on YouTube, but it’s gorgeous) where the parents of the victims are are repeating the last words they spoke to their children, over which Frederica von Stade’s mother sings a lament about her sense of loss, and how she failed all of them. I think it was called “You Don’t Know What It’s Like to Bear a Child.”

    A day of long intakes of breath, and long sighs.

    Here’s breathingmoss’ post today, Ten Years.

  7. 🙁 🙁 I don’t know what to say.

    I would like to address this part though, please? …

    >>>and even some of the other young folks there taking a second look at us wanted to convey, was this: “Hate put our town on the map. But love is going to change it.”

    I recently had my own faith in this restored, just this past summer. Are you familiar with the big racial hate crime that happened in eastern PA this past July? A group of white teenage boys beat to death a Mexican immigrant. The town was Shenan doah. (Written as two words so as not to attract odd search engine hits you may not want). That is my husband’s hometown. We live a couple hours away, and we have a daughter adopted from China.

    The weekend after the white boys were arrested (three ‘good old boys’ who were stars on the high school football team, riling things up even worse), and right as the whole story was going national on CNN, my husband’s family wanted us to go out to visit the town for a ‘Blini-sale and blockparty’. Given the town’s new reputation as the current capital of white racial crime, I wasn’t exactly anxious to visit with our little Asian angel. We did end up going, reluctantly, and as hubby and I stood in line for blinis at the blockparty, it was, of course, painfully white and painfully ‘separated’. Meanwhile, we left our daughter at the inlaws’ house.

    I may have been overreacting in my fear, I don’t know. But you know what happened next? When we returned to the inlaws’ house, my motherinlaw took us all out onto her tightly-packed row-home street, and started her own little blockparty with her new neighbors — a Mexican family. The father of this family taught his daughter and our daughter how to play hopscotch, while the rest of us hung out eating blinis. While the tensions remained high all over that town, anyone who looked down my motherinlaw’s street that afternoon, saw two families, representing three ethnicities, hanging out and enjoying themselves while the kids played hopscotch. I can’t tell you how proud I became of my motherinlaw that day.

    (Nice to meet you, sorry for barging in. I’ve been lurking for a while. I found you from lilysea’s blog — whose blog I originally found when we adopted our daughter. Lilysea has been a wonderful learning experience for me in so many ways. I also have an interest in the topic of same-sex families, as our daughter’s legal guardians (should something happen to us) are dear friends who just happen to be a lesbian couple. Again, I apologize for barging in like this.)

  8. Barge away, sister. We are all in this (and everything) together.

    I heard about the PA hate crime, but of course never read about everyday life for people in the wake of it.

    Very nice to meet you, too. Thank you for sharing.


    Just made it up & over the $5,000 No on 8 fundraising mark somewheres between the last time I looked, and 3pm PST the day before my birthday, the eve of Yom Kippur, and just shy of a month from when we started. Hosanna to all of us!

    But given the news about the current polling, I’ll redouble my efforts:

    “Foes of gay-marriage ban say poll shows Prop. 8 leading,” Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times, 8 Oct., 2008.


    “Anti-gay marriage forces lead in cash just weeks before the election,” Veronique de Turenne, Los Angeles Times, 8 Oct., 2008.

    But to keep the cheery morale as cheery as possible, I’ll leave the sparkly “we did it” thermometer in place at least for 24hrs, eh?

    More thorough & detailed thanks to follow, after I’ve squinched out from underneath the current work deadline that’s hanging over me like a nice plastic Sword of Damascus.

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