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17: Matthew “Matt” Wayne Shepard – * December 1, 1976; †October 12, 1998

Cowboy Pride FlagMatthew Shepard is a man who is often on my thoughts, with increasing frequency as early October rolls around.

It was October 6, 1998, when Aaron Kreifels had an accident with his bicycle, looked up, wondered about a scarecrow – only to realize that the scarecrow was a human being, Matthew Shepard.

Tuesday, Matthew Shepard came up on the Box Turtle Bulletin – and I cried as I remembered and reflected on those awful days some seventeen years ago this week.

Writing this post every year brings a great deal of reflection, taking stock of my life, and even more tears shedding.

It is clear that society has come a tremendously long way in the intervening years: same sex marriage is now the law of the land in the United States of America (but not yet in Germany; but that is a different battle to be fought), gays and lesbians are welcome to serve in the military (with the transgendered also gaining ground on that front), and – for many – coming out is a casual mention, not a big drama.

But I still feel small and scared when thinking about Matthew Shepard, me, and 1998.

Crawling into the closet of my Braeside Drive apartment; essentially being forced to come out to a number of people newly important to me in Bloomington, even though I wasn’t quite ready to do so; feeling lonely. Isolated. Afraid. Scared. Sad. Powerless. Unable to sleep, read, think, feel, function, …

Showing up at my first gay protest and memorial – Dunn Meadow, outside the Indiana University Memorial Union – lighting my first candle at a protest and memorial.

Being Shell Shocked.

I have not looked at my past ramblings about Matthew Shepard yet this year – I want to write this anew, fresh – yet I feel that I am probably being repetitive, but it is not clear to me how I can state my thought process any differently.

Any particular way to talk about the impact that Matthew Wayne Shepard has had on my life.

Will have on my life.

That core feeling of helplessness as the news first broke, reaching me 1,100 miles away. Facts alluded to. Hints at the victim’s sexuality. The brutality of violence. The sinking feeling in my stomach. The fear that it could have been me.

East Side

Safety lost.

I try to do my part to change society. To change Wyoming. To change the University of Wyoming. I’m keeping up with my personal pledge to help the University of Wyoming’s Rainbow Resource Center. Extending my commitment to help establish the RRC Resource Scholarship, a fund dedicated to helping UWyo students who are cut off from their families because they come out.

Safety regained.

I like to imagine that I would choose to do these things even without Matthew Shepard having been murdered; but that is a condition that cannot be tested.

Instead, as I live in a safe place, a safe time, and a safe world – I look back.

Remember.

Cry.

And most importantly; for the future.

Hope.


For historical reference, see 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.

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