Remembering Matthew

In the wake of a Wyoming man's murder, the Twin Cities and the nation respond

On Oct. 7, 1998, the day Matthew Shepard became the target of a brutal beating by two University of Wyoming students, I learned to fear again. Since the day he was beaten, protests and vigils held in his name have swept this country. On Oct. 12, 1998, my fear turned to anger. I am angry because it is unlawful for me to cry fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire, but it is perfectly tolerable for Fred Phelps to advocate the mass murder of GLBT people. I am angry because conservative activist Beverly LeHaye spouts her anti-gay rhetoric under the guise of family values. I am angry because Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is stalling the passage of a federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act that would include gays. I am angry because Pat Robertson, a professed Christian, has spurned the greatest commandment to love for a twisted advocacy of hate. I am angry because I have learned to fear for my life because of the sex of the person that I love.

I spent most of National Coming Out Week, which was celebrated Oct. 12-16 at the University of Minnesota, organizing and rallying students, staff, faculty, administrators, and community members. The Queer Student Cultural Center at the University of Minnesota, along with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Programs Office, sponsored a coming-out advertisement dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard in the Minnesota Daily. I have also authored a resolution for the Minnesota Student Association to provide funding and programming on hate crimes at the University of Minnesota in conjunction with various student and community organizations.

We in Minnesota have spent too much time being complacent and forgetting that we are not free from hate crimes and prejudice. It is time that we remember that there is a gubernatorial candidate who would like nothing better than to repeal the GLBT protections in the state Human Rights Act. We have to remember that we are only a progressive state on GLBT issues, not a perfect state.

We can do something about hate crimes. We can vote. We can remove from office those people who believe we don't have the right of equal access and protection. We can remove from office those people who devalue our lives and disregard our success, triumphs, loves, and fears. We have been beaten, degraded, and killed. The people are rallying, the time for fighting is now.

Brandon Lacy Campos is co-chair of the Queer Student Cultural Center at the University of Minnesota.

Standing in the rain at a vigil for Matthew Shepard a few weeks ago brought back images of the first gay man I knew who was killed by hate.

Seven years ago, in the summer of 1991, I helped organize a vigil for that young man, Joel Larson, who was shot to death in Loring Park while cruising. It was a very different time. There was no outpouring of support from the straight community. The media treated the shooting, and the murder of John Chenoweth a few weeks later, as a gay freak show. Many GLBT crime victims were too fearful of the criminal-justice system to report acts of violence. Minnesota had no openly gay cops. Queers were not protected by state anti-discrimination laws. The nation saw gay people almost exclusively as victims of AIDS.

Matthew Shepard's murder was different. This time, for the first time, the nation rose up and condemned the hate.

President Clinton called for a national hate-crimes bill. Editorial pages from Wyoming to Minnesota to New York condemned the hate behind the killing. Vigils held across the country packed churches and auditoriums beyond anyone's expectations. Even the jocks on the football team at Shepard's school, the University of Wyoming, wore ribbons of solidarity.

In Minneapolis, at St. Mark's church on the edge of Loring Park, over 1,100 people, gay and straight, attended a vigil for Shepard, filling every pew and aisle and spilling out into the rain. The Minneapolis vigil was one of dozens organized around the county in just two days, solely by word of mouth. It was an amazing outpouring of support.

Yet I left St. Mark's feeling strangely empty. I thought I was in a time warp, back in 1991 or even earlier. No one who spoke at the vigil seemed to grasp the power of what was happening. All we heard were tales of fear and the rhetoric of victimization. We were weak. Our gains meant nothing. Our enemies loomed all powerful.

Beth Zemsky, director of GLBT programs at the University of Minnesota, told us about the paralyzing fear students were experiencing in the wake of Shepard's murder. Not one student, we were told, felt safe enough to speak at the vigil. That's crazy. Yes, anti-gay violence happens, even in Minnesota, but our campuses and communities are safer now than ever before. Our students have the power to come out. Even in the shadow of murder, we must speak out against fear, not embrace it.

Zemsky and nearly every other speaker dwelled on the power of the religious right--their ads, their presence at Shepard's funeral, their influence in Congress. But no one saw the obvious: the religious right could never do what the gay-rights movement was doing at that very moment: They could never move a nation.

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