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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Remembering Matthew Shepard

I'm sure you know by now I like to have fun with this blog and be super sassy. Today, however, I feel the need to be serious. (Don't worry, I'll get back to calling out people's shenanigans tomorrow.)

The reason for the seriousness is that I realized late last night that it is the 12-year anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death, the University of Wyoming student who was tortured and murdered by two men. The story gained national attention, and even later a movie, because Matthew was gay and it was seen as a hate crime.

I was a Junior at UW when this happened, and I can still remember where I was when I heard the news. I was sitting in my Nonverbal Communications class when the girl sitting next to me told me what happened. Her cousin was one of the bike riders who found Matthew's nearly lifeless body tied to a fence post. From there, our campus turned into a media circus, with news cameras and live trucks everywhere, and reporters from all over the country sticking cameras in our faces and asking us questions on the way to class.

I had some strange connections to this tragic crime. I went to junior high and had a class with Aaron McKinney, one of the murderers. The fence post that Matthew was tied to was very close to my apartment. I also later found out I had a class with Matthew, however we never met.

After the tragedy, it became very clear that the media was trying to spin the story to make it seem like Wyoming was very close-minded and behind the times, and that we didn't accept gay people. When I got stopped by an L.A. Times reporter, she kept asking me, "Well, is this a Wyoming value? Do people in Wyoming hate gay people?" I assured her that was absolutely not the case, but she apparently decided my answer wasn't juicy enough. Here's what she came up with...

Jeannie Crofts, a 20-year-old student who grew up in Wyoming said she had seen gay friends in high school beaten up but ever imagined such anti-gay brutality was possible here. "I think about him out there, tied to a fence for 18 or 20 hours--what was going through his head? It's too terrible for me to even think someone would do that."

The quote is true, but what she said before is a lie. I can honestly say I have never seen a gay person beaten up, even bulled for that matter, and for her to say so was disgusting. That misquote got picked up by the AP and every news outlet across the country, and it's still on the web when you search "Jeannie Crofts." I realized then that some people in the media change the story to fit their agenda.

I can tell you one thing: Wyoming is a better place because of Matthew Shepard. People who had previously been afraid to come out did so after his death. People rallied together and supported one another. We became a closer state, a more loving one, and a more open-minded one too. Sure, we have a long way to go before there is total acceptance, but that's true everywhere.

Never for one second believe that hate is a Wyoming value. The two murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were not UW students. They were two guys with minimum wage jobs and no real goals or futures. They just happened to live in Wyoming.

To Matthew: you will forever be in our hearts and in our minds.  Thank you for making Wyoming a better place to live.

1 comment:

  1. W. This is beautiful and honest, and it is the community I know and love and embrace in Wyoming... I am really thankful you wrote this and I am so happy to still know you.