An essay by Oasis writer Derek Elmer
I remember feeling confused and angry when two of my friends were removed from life support around 4am on November 4, 1989 at the University of Michigan Medical Center at Ann Arbor.
I was confused because I had just seen one of them the day before she died as we made our ordinary, everyday plans; the sort which define high school. Plans in which both of them were a part. I was confused because my friends' future was gone and it was something none of us had control over.
Maybe that's why I was angry too; and almost 10 years later still look back to those days with feelings of regret and loss.
And maybe that's why all of these old, yet familiar, emotions have come rushing back to me as I hear the news out of Fort Collins, CO as Matthew Shepard died. He had been on full life-support. While I may not have known Matthew, I feel many of the things I felt for the two friends of mine who also died prematurely; with sadness, confusion and anger being at the top of the list.
Sadness that his last moments here were moments of terror, pain and unhappiness. Sadness over what was taken from him, as well as the rest of the Shepard family: his life; his dignity; his rights.
Anger toward the men who stole these things from Matthew (Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson have been accused in Matthew's death and may be brought up on first-degree murder charges). Anger at McKinney's father who told CNN the story of Matthew's death "had been blown out of proportion." And anger toward the collective attitude in Washington that apparently condones this violence by ignoring it. After all, this inequality didn't start with Matthew Shepard's death and it sure won't end with this disgustingly senseless act of hate either. We'll see if President Clinton's call for a federal hate-crime law, again, goes unheard.
And confusion toward those in our government at local, state and federal levels who inevitably won't see the death of this 21-year old as an indicator of a growing problem. Rehashing sex scandals is the only thing our government can be bothered with these days inside the Beltway.
That truly confuses me.
Are lawmakers hearing us? Maybe. But seems apparent they're sure not listening, at least not to us. According to CNN and the AP: Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer, is open to review of any new legislation to "strengthen Wyoming law" but warned against "overreacting" to create legislation "that gives one group 'special rights' over others." Gov. Geringer is a first-term Republican seeking a second term in office and has not made a priority of hate-crime legislation during his first term. Given that record, I'm confused over what Gov. Geringer means by "special rights." Who's that "one group" and what "special rights" is he talking about? The right not to be murdered?
Maybe all of my thoughts fall more into the category of anger this time around. Anger over the loss felt by Matthew's parents which has been amplified across the globe. Anger over the fact that I am sending out my condolences to a family that shouldn't have to mourn the loss of their once healthy, normal son who was building a future for himself. And yes, anger at what many people before me have known all along: that in this world differences make you a target. My difference, like Matthew Shepard's, is that I am gay.
A wise friend once told me that perhaps each of us could benefit by spending a few hours privately charting our own morality from traits most favorable to those least appealing.
Maybe she has something, and maybe we should.
Derek can be reached at email@example.com