By John Aravosis
For ten days in October, the world came out. In a global electronic epiphany, a light was turned on as millions tapped into an awareness, an understanding, and an empathy of gayness that before October 9 most had never known.
We held vigils, sent emails, shared our grief, and demanded change. Many found a new drive to live - and others, a spirit-to-fight long forgotten.
From Zimbabwe to Australia, and from Portland Oregon to Portland Maine, our love knew no borders, we cast aside our prejudices, and tended the bedside of a dying young man.
"Thank you John, I am thousands of miles away here in Zimbabwe. But I feel so deeply that I cannot put this in words!! Of course us gays here are totally taboo, but one day we too shall win. It is my fervent belief that God has a special place for us, and indeed a special purpose. Thank you my friend, Brian." - email, October 18, 1998.
We came out to loved ones:
"I was afraid of what would happen to me if I came out. But, this secret was tearing me up inside. I told my best friend that I was gay. Thankfully, she accepted me for WHO I am not WHAT I am. Yesterday, I told another friend. Matt Shepard's death must mean something. Even though he died because of irresponsible hatred, I will not let that deter me. I am gay. It is the way that God made me. He made me this way for a purpose. What that purpose is, I do not know. But I will not hide behind the shame and hatred that I have lived behind for so long. Matt Shepard may have died, but his strength lives on in each of us." - email, October 20, 1998.
We took a stand:
"This isn't just a gay thing anymore. This is really about humanity and decency. Let every ounce of bigotry and hatred be met with equal measure of determination to end it. We can do it. I've taken the gloves off. I just fuckin' dare one idiot to cross my path at this point. I'm not looking for a fight but I sure as hell won't tolerate a fool." - email, October 20, 1998.
We demanded an accounting:
"I am certain that the homosexual population of Mississippi, and their families and friends would like to know why you, Senator Lott, consider the length of Duck Hunting Season [a last-minute addition to the budget bill by Sen. Lott] more worthy of your efforts than the safety of your voters. Or are you putting you gay/lesbian constituents on the same level with ducks, open season on both?"- email to Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott's office, October 21, 1998.
We rekindled our spirit:
"For 35 years I've been a happy gay guy living with my lover in nice houses, but 35 years ago we - he and I - stood outside the Stonewall and participated, not violently, very young then, but, upheld our fellows feelings. It was a good feeling: one we can look back on with pride. I will begin to pick up the banner again. We've hidden, happy, and complacent. [The Shepard case has] revive[d] a spirit I thought I didn't need anymore."- email, October 20, 1998.
And we vowed to fight back:
"I have always voted for the person not the party - but now after what the Republicans are doing and have done I cannot vote for even ONE of them. I will vote along straight Democratic party lines!!!! Urge everyone to do the same and tell Lott and his ilk that that is what we are doing!"- email, October 20, 1998.
Yet in spite of our renewal, and restraint, others choose to hate. They make monsters of gay men and lesbians, while cloaking their message in hope, in love, and in God.
Kill the gays:
" 'Lesbian love, sodomy are viewed by God as being detestable and abominable. . . . Civil magistrates are to put people to death who practice these things,' said Rich Agozino, host of [Christian radio show] 'Crosstalk' on radio station KBRT-AM (740) in Costa Mesa, urging callers to write to their state legislators asking them to enact laws that would punish homosexuality according to biblical law, meaning capital punishment, according to a transcript of the Aug. 29 show." - Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1997.
Rape the lesbians:
"It's not too late to try and be STRAIGHT. Give up your homo lifestyle or more fags will die and lesbians raped and impregnated and forced to bear straight children. This is war against you homo perverts!!" - Posted on October 20, 1998 to the Matthew Shepard Online Resources bulletin board http://www.wiredstrategies.com/wwwboard
Because we're dishonest:
" 'These people are intellectually dishonest in just about everything they do or say,' the Congressional Quarterly quoted Helms as saying when asked about the documentary. He added, 'They start by pretending that it is just another form of love. It's sickening.' " - Senator Jess Helms, Variety, June 30, 1998.
Because we're liars:
" 'Homosexuality is a decision, it's not a race,' White said. 'People from all different ethnic backgrounds live in this lifestyle. But people from all different ethnic backgrounds also are liars and cheaters and malicious and back-stabbing.' " - Reggie White, Associated Press, March 25, 1998.
Because we're pedophiles:
"There is a strong undercurrent of pedophilia in the homosexual subculture. Homosexual activists want to promote the flouting of traditional sexual prohibitions at the earliest possible age....they want to encourage a promiscuous society - and the best place to start is with a young and credulous captive audience in the public schools." - Family Research Council, http://www.frc.org/insight/is93f1hs.html
Because we're sinners:
"It is [a sin]....You should try to show them a way to deal with that problem, just like alcohol...or sex addiction...or kleptomaniacs." - Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, Associated Press, June 15, 1998.
Because we should be arrested:
"Bob Jones University has a message for gay alumni: Stay away or be arrested. The Christian fundamentalist school threatened Thursday to arrest all gay graduates who return to campus. Wayne Mouritzen, a retired minister and Bob Jones graduate, got a letter banning him from campus because officials discovered he is gay. The letter, signed by Bob Jones' dean of students, said: 'With grief we must tell you that as long as you are living as a homosexual, you, of course, would not be welcome on the campus and would be arrested for trespassing if you did visit.' " - Associated Press, October 23, 1998.
Because we're going to hell:
"In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, homosexuals are included in a list of sinners, who, if unrepentant, will not inherit the kingdom of God." - Family Research Council press release on the day of Matthew's funeral, October 16, 1998.
Religious extremists vilify us. Call us diseased, perverted, immoral, and abomination. They say on TV and radio that we deserve to lose our jobs, our children, our families and our homes. They prepare studies for Congress "proving" we are unfit teachers, parents, ambassadors, and soldiers. They liken us to adulterers, murderers, kleptomaniacs, and alcoholics. And they accuse us of being anti-family, anti-Christian, anti-God, and anti-America.
This is not love. It is a blasphemy of Christianity that makes one yearn less to be an ex-gay than an ex-Christian. It pollutes the word of God, and wrongly tells America that people of faith are crazy, backward, and bitter. And worst of all, it teaches our young that to love God one must hate man.
Their hate killed Matt.
But "no," they protest, words don't kill people - people kill people.
"Don't blame AA because a drunk was beat up," said Heather Farish of the Family Research Council, responding to charges that her organization's anti-gay rhetoric gives license to anti-gay violence. Dallas Morning News, October 17, 1998.
But how do they explain the religiously-justified hatred pervading our youth?
"I was talking to a group of high school students that I teach about Matthew's death, and what I heard shocked me. Not only did they think he deserved what he got, but they wanted to go and defend his killers because it was a 'Holy Killing.'" - email, October 16, 1998.
It is simply not possible to preach the inhumanity of man, then blithely skulk away when principle meets practice. It is simply not moral to give a child a gun, then feign ignorance when someone gets hurt.
If words do not inspire actions, then why did they spend $500,000 on an ad campaign to inspire gays to 'convert'? They know words have consequences, and their words are nothing less than the subjugation and dehumanization of gay and lesbian Americans. It is no wonder that decades of disdain eventually led to violence.
"We knew there would be a Matthew Shepard, we just didn't know who it would be." Wayne Besen of the Human Rights Campaign, The [Bergen Co., N.J.] Record, October 21, 1998.
Last week a part of us died, but another was reborn. And while we didn't win the hearts of Congress, we captured the soul of America, and the world. Many of us are no longer afraid. No longer alone. And no longer complacent in the face of evil. While angry, sad and dispirited, we finally fought back for one of our own. And it felt good, and just.
For me, October 9 will always be Matt Shepard day.
The day we cast aside our shame.
The day we declared our humanity.
The day we challenged their lies and their hate.
The day we defended our brothers and sisters, and ourselves, publicly and proudly.
And the day we paused to honor an unknown friend, whose soul inspired a revolution he will never see.
So let this be our call to arms. Our call to action. OUR call to reclaim America.
If Matt could survive alone in the cold - bound, beaten and broken - then we can find the strength to fight on in his name, and put a stop to this nonsense once and for all.