For gay people in America, the day that Matthew Shepherd was murdered is remembered as starkly as the day John Kennedy was killed, or more recently, where we stood on 9/11/01 when the towers fell. Twenty years ago in October 1998, I was at work, at my desk, perusing what passed as the Internet then, on my lunch hour. It was CNN, news, something… there it was. A gay man in Wyoming was brutally murdered and hung upon a fence to die, crucified. He was younger than I was, looking as innocent as a lamb. Killed for the same sin I shared, that of being sexually attracted to my own sex. I was in a relatively new relationship, in love, and suddenly, horribly, reminded of the possible consequences: I was so hated that someone might try to kill me in the same vicious way that young, beautiful Matthew Shepherd had been killed.
People are hateful. There will always be people who lack empathy, who lack the ability to have love for anyone. That will never change. But people are also loving. There will always be people who love fiercely, who forgive others, who see beyond the emptiness of other’s souls. And the balance will always be shifting, and we will always have free will to make our choices: Do we hate or do we love?
Seeing young Matthew Shepherd put to rest today at Washington National Cathedral, with such love and respect and beauty, was a balm to a deep wound, long scarred in my heart, that I didn’t even know needed attention. Gay people
are still hated today but perhaps, by fewer people than before.