Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ten Years

Sly B and I subscribe to The Advocate, and have for many years. We don't do much more than flip through most issues, but a recent issue reminded me of a major life event for me that I've been thinking about since I read it. This is something I haven't ever talked about. I figure that after 10 years, it's time to let it go.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the hate-crime murder of Matthew Shepard. The Advocate memorial article is a good one. You can find it here if you're interested in reading it. Picture poor Sly B trying to visit with me Saturday morning while I cried, reading it.

I knew Matt a little bit. I happened to be living in Fort Collins at the time, and was finishing up my Master's degree at CSU. I was very involved in the GLBT organization on campus, and we did a few things during each year with our sistah group at UW. The UW students came down to Fort Collins on the weekends to party at Nightingale's, the gay bar where I spent A LOT of time. In those ways, I crossed paths with Matt 4 or 5 times. He was a very sweet guy who was friendly and had a smile for me every time I saw him.

When he was beaten and left for dead, I heard about it from the incredibly dysfunctional alcoholic woman from whom I rented a room -- the worst among 3 or 4 horrible living situations during my time at CSU. I spent very little time at the house, because if it was after 4 p.m., she was shit-faced and wanted to talk about herself, her sex life, and how lonely she was. I mention her drinking because on this particular evening, she was blotto and weepy and demonstrating all the worst parts of her disease. I remember very clearly that there was one of those 2-litre bottles of vodka with the handles on her glass-topped dining room table that she was drinking directly out of. I also remember that she was smoking in the house, which was in direct violation of her own rule #1. When I walked in the house - just coming in to change clothes, drop off my books, and go to the bar - she stumbled up to me and hugged me, sobbing. I finally got the story about what happened out of her and we turned on CNN to catch up. I said, "I think I know that guy."

The next several days and weeks were among the worst in my life. I attended all of the vigils: at the hospital where Matt died, on campus, in Laramie. I didn't miss any. The other bar I spent a lot of time at, Shots, was under attack by homophobes. They put a man at the door with a bat because men kept running in and shouting "FAGGOTS!" and trying to start fights. I was walking to the bar with a date one night, and we were gay-bashed. One of the fraternities at CSU put a battered scarecrow on their homecoming float as a joke about how Matt was found. I received death threats in my English department mailbox and had to spend hours being interviewed by the campus police. It was a horrible time to be gay in Fort Collins.

Sometimes I think that the world is a much better place than it was then, and other times I think that we have still not learned our lessons. Matt's death really shook me up. Matt was not the only gay man killed that year - other gay and trans people of color were also murdered because of who they were. They just didn't get the media attention that Matt's case received.

If for no other reason, if you're in California and reading this, please vote NO on Prop 8 for Matt Shepard's memory.

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