Remembering Matthew

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

We have to stop treating our enemies as our political superiors. In just a few short years, the gay-rights movement has won over the education establishment, the leaders of nearly every big city, the President, the news media, Hollywood, and much of mainstream religion. At moments of tragedy, we must acknowledge that power, not dismiss it. The protesters at Shepard's funeral were fools. Our supporters who quietly held up their coats and umbrellas to hide the messages of hate were heroes--for all the nation to see.

Brennan Hannon, of the Minnesota AIDS Project, was the vigil's most powerful speaker. Unfortunately, his speech was little more than outdated slogans forcefully delivered. It was a "wake-up call," but it looked backwards. It was an effective expression of anger, but it did little more than celebrate the politics of victimization. "We are putting this nation on alert, we will not let this happen again," Hannon declared. I've heard that before, too many times.

Instead of issuing empty bromides, I wish Hannon had used his considerable rhetorical skills to acknowledge the power before him, the power of being part of a national outcry against hate. His call for action should have been an open hand, not a clenched fist.

Anger can be powerful, but living openly gay lives and encouraging others to come out in an increasingly accepting society is much more powerful. Violence touches our lives, but our power to condemn it is much greater than its power to control us.

The best way to remember Matthew Shepard is not to exaggerate the power of the thugs who killed him, but to embrace the thousands, even millions, of people who rose up for him. We can seize this moment or we can wallow in it. What will we do?

Ken Darling is a longtime Twin Cities activist and a Q Monthly contributing columnist.

Responses to the death of Matthew Shepard

"There is a lot of talk about tolerance...That society should be tolerant of other lifestyles. That we should be tolerant of people different than the mainstream. Let me tell you what I think of tolerance. No more tolerance. I will not tolerate the attitude that they can do this to us. I will not tolerate living my life in fear. I will not tolerate censoring pronouns when I talk about my dates. I will not tolerate being called a faggot. I will not tolerate a disapproving look when I kiss my lover. I will not tolerate what they did to Matthew."

--Brennan Hannon, Minnesota AIDS Project

"When there is a tragic and senseless death such as Matthew's, our whole society suffers. It makes us ask: Where is human decency? Where is simple justice? Never is our moral resolve more urgently needed than now. Never should we forget the great wrong visited on Matthew Shepard and his friends and family."

-- Mark G. Yudof, president, University of Minnesota

"The Hate Crimes Prevention Act would give the federal government the power to investigate crimes such as the one committed against Matthew Shepard. There are those who say we don't need another law, the system is adequate. But passing this law is the way to enforce and reinforce the fair-minded belief that intolerance is not a national or family value."

-- Larry Buntin, board of governors, Human Rights Campaign

"Matthew's mother Judy says that he loved his church all his life, even when he felt that it rejected him for being gay. He was determined to remain within the community of the church and work for change by his presence there. He knew that if the church or some parts of the church rejected him, God did not. He knew that he was a beloved child of God, made in the very image of the creator and called good. It was part of what made him who he was, this inner sense of trust in the goodness of God's creation. Those who knew him say that Matthew was a kind, gentle, person who took everybody at face value and did not see the bad side to anyone. In the end, this may have been why Russell and Aaron killed him."

--The Rev. Theo Park, St. Alban's Episcopal Church

"I think I realized tonight...that I have to do better as a U.S. senator for this community."

-- U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone

"There are those who think they have killed Matthew Shepard. His body is gone, but his spirit and his soul is here among us, among the people of Minnesota, among the people of this world. Fifty years ago, my father said, 'Let us get out of the shadows of discrimination, ignorance, intolerance, and hatred, and let us get into the bright sunshine.' The shadows come back, but the eloquent words I have heard tonight, of waking up, of taking action, of accepting responsibility, and doing what must be done, are stronger and will roll back those shadows. We will see a brighter sunshine. Matthew will be there with us."

-- Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey, state attorney general and gubernatorial candidate

"This heinous crime deserves the condemnation of all Americans. Hate crimes such as this and the June murder of James Byrd in Texas are violent acts motivated by intolerance and hatred. I trust that those responsible for this horrendous attack will be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law and firmly believe that we must pass the tough hate-crimes legislation pending in the Congress to help stop these despicable acts."

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