I was standing in the student center of Tufts University in Medford, MA when I heard a CNN report announce that Matthew Shepard had died of his injuries. I was stunned, and angry, and frightened, and incredibly upset. My hands clenched, my eyes clouded, and I fingered the rainbow ribbon pinned to my shirt.
That morning I had been talking to a fellow student and potential transfer to my own college; our campus had just celebrated National Coming Out day, with ban-ners and pins and painted closets standing wide open on the lawn. Pride and soli-darity don't seem to be the norm, though. Confusion, misunderstanding, and joking about homosexuality are far more common, and fear and hatred. I've sat in a MIT fraternity house listening to a pledge continually return to the theme of "So you girls go to Wellesley... so you're lesbians, right?" and had my high school teachers and classmates look at my best friend and me strangely in the halls, assuming us to be queer, and lovers (half-right: we both had crushes on different women at the time). I've heard people who I otherwise respect treat the entire idea of homosexu-ality or bisexuality as a joke ("Bisexuality would be so distracting! you'd be checking everybody out, all the time!"), and stood frozen with shock as classmates discussed "killing all the gay men to stop the AIDS epidemic" in class or earnestly told me that they would disown and reject any gay, lesbian, or bisexual child of theirs -- this in an area of New Jersey that likes to think of itself as cosmopolitan and free from prejudice!
Matthew Shepard's death stunned me for all of the reasons one would expect, but more because it's one more nail closing God-knows-how-many GLB teenagers in the closet. Most high schools don't support their non-heterosexual students; even if the administration does, there are so many other pressures to hide already that it frequently won't tip the balance. Matthew's death is one more reminder of the vio-lence and hate against homosexuals in our society; this is what gets remembered and this is what terrifies us. Sure, homosexuality receives more exposure now; but who? Celebrities are (sometimes) great role models but are largely irrelevant to everyday life, homosexual criminals have their sexuality advertised by the news when homosexual heroes rarely do, and one doesn't see many positive, everyday portrayals of homosexual people in general in the mainstream media or day-to-day life. (Gay and lesbian publications aren't necessarily accessible, websites are be-coming more accessible but don't help someone without unrestricted access, and anyway so much of this is more-or-less preaching to the converted, isn't it?) Why do we hear more about gay youth when they're dead than when they're alive? Why do we have to die to be seen by the world? A cohesive gay youth movement is des-perately needed; needed yesterday, last week, last year, but needed now.
Please, if you read this, respond, argue, critique, whatever: I want to hear refuta-tion of what I've said. Hope always helps.