Wednesday, May 11, 2011

We Will Not Forget Matthew Shepherd

Losing Matt Shepherd: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of Anti-Gay Murder by Beth Loffreda
Weight: 1 lb
Method of Disposal: Donate, unless you want it

I was just realizing I was into women and starting the process of coming out when Matt Shepherd was killed. I was 13. Two years later this book was published. It was not long after that when I started getting death threats, having my car keyed, and my nose shattered.

Matt Shepherd was 21 when he was brutally murdered in October of 1998. His death resonated with a lot of people. It scared a lot of people. It rallied even more. We were hurt, and we needed to come together. Judy Shepherd understood this and she took to traveling and speaking. She was in a heartbreaking documentary entitled, Journey to a Hate Free Millennium: Stories of Compassion and Hope, among others. I saw her at UGA with my friend, Sarah, and this documentary was shown before she spoke. At the end of her talk we were given thimbles. I believe they came from the documentary maker, and they were supposed to hold love. If we all carried a thimble of love…

I bought the documentary online later that month. I think it was around $50. I showed it to my high school sociology class, and I had to shut it off because they kids were having too much fun taunting me, making fun of matt’s father holding his son’s baseball hat in his hands. “Why do we have to watch a boring video about some old man crying about a faggot?” I only cried after that class one day out of that whole year, and it was a different day. The kids were brutal. The time I cried, they never saw it. It was not until my next class, physics, which I became inconsolable and had to call my mom from a pay phone to come get me. I could not get myself together for hours.

I don’t remember much about this book. I liked it, but I was not too picky. I do not remember feeling close to Matt while reading the book, though I was moved by his story many other times. It was emotionally distant, but it had value. It is not the book itself that makes it hard to let go. Can you tell?

What makes a crime a hate crime? This is part of it. A murder is committed and shouts out a message to others. It causes you to mourn a person, while also fearing for yourself and others like you because of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, so on and so forth. In October 2009, Obama signed the The Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. 11 years later.

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