The Editors of the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s most important newspaper, sought letters, asking, “What does Matthew Shepard’s story mean to you?” I felt that I had to write a letter; I have no idea if it will be published. In case it is not published, I put it here, in full, on this, the 20th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.
On the twentieth anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder, I will do what I do every year: pause to reflect and remember how his story transformed my life.
In October 1998, I had just moved from the University of Wyoming to Indiana University. I started fully exploring who I was: Laramie had been, for me, too limiting. Bloomington offered me a chance to find myself, to discover what it was like to live life out and proud. In Laramie, the number of people who I had come out to could be counted on one hand. In Bloomington, the number was increasing rapidly.
When the news about Matthew Shepard initially broke, I had to read between the lines to divine that he was beaten because he was gay.
For somebody just coming fully out of the closet, this was brutal. It affected me to the core – I literally crawled into my closet and cried.
Beyond my immediate visceral reaction, I was profoundly impacted: As a teacher, diverse sexualities are incorporated into examples to signal openness and tolerance to students. As a writer, gender-inclusive language substitutes for traditional sexist language. As a human, it taught me compassion and empathy for my fellow humans, to appreciate and embrace all of our differences and diversity.
Life handed me a future I could not have predicted. Berlin is now my home, a city that is, in many ways, the diametric opposite of Wyoming. What astonishes people is my vocal support for the Wyoming Cowboys; nobody cares that I am gay.
Ultimately, I wish I did not know Matthew Shepard’s name: he is famous for the worst possible reason, because he was brutally murdered. However, his legacy, as I embody it, is alive and well: I am a better human because of him.
UWyo ’96, ‘98
For historical reference, see 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.