By Jeff Walsh, Oasis Editor
While the senseless death of Matthew Shepard has touched millions of people, none were hit harder than his family and those who knew him. Alex Trout was Matt's closest friend in Laramie, although Alex has since moved to Kansas City after Matt's death. Within days of his friend being beaten and murdered, Alex found himself in Washington D.C., speaking to thousands of people at a rallym while trying to process his grief.
"I'm not a speaking-type of person. I don't get up and give a speech in front of 15,000 people every day," Alex said in a phone interview with Oasis. "So, when I got up and spoke, I started crying. It wasn't that it was so hard to talk about Matt, but also it was hard speaking in front of 15,000 people."
Alex spoke at the same rally as last month's Profile in Courage, as well as Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Heche and Kirsten Johnson. While the rally was for Matt, many of the speeches spoke about the need for hate crimes legislation. Alex said he doesn't mind Matt being raised up as a symbol for potential political gain.
"If something positive comes out of this, we're doing good. No, it's not a good thing that Matt died. But something positive has to come out of it," Alex said. "God only knows what's going to come out of the trial with Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson (Matthew's alleged murderers). The other positive thing that came out is in Santa Monica, they named a part of their town to Matthew Shepard Square, which means a lot to his family and friends."
With the media frenzy surrounding Matt's death, a lot of conflicting stories aired in the media. Many of the conflicts centered on whether Matt was openly gay. Alex, who has known Matt for four years, said Matt was open about his sexuality with family and friends, but he wasn't the type of person to go around telling strangers.
"Matt was not as openly gay as they made it sound. Matt was open in that if someone asked him and he felt comfortable with you, he would tell you. If he didn't feel comfortable with you, you would never know," Alex said. "But at the same time, he was a small person and very feminine. Even if he were straight, he would have still been called 'fag' and 'queer.'"
Alex also said Wyoming is a safe place to be gay, despite media reports to the contrary.
"It's okay to be gay in Wyoming. It's a live and let live state, if you know what I mean. You keep to yourself and we'll keep to ourselves," he said. "Laramie is a retirement town, it's not a town ... well, it doesn't makes sense that the college is in Laramie, because the Laramie community hates the university. By no means could I walk down the street holding hands with my boyfriend, no way. I can't go to a restaurant and put my hand on his leg... well, I can't say that because I would. If you do, you're asking for what you get. I lived in Laramie for four years, worked in every restaurant in Laramie, and there's not a person in that town that doesn't know I'm gay. That's why it's so hard to believe it was Matt. I would have expected it to be me."
When Matt began school in Laramie, their friendship became deeper due to their living in the same town. Alex still thinks fondly of the remembrances he has of Matt.
"It would be little things, like we'd go out to eat or something," he said. "He had a thing with Taco John, he loved Taco John. And I loved Taco Bell, so we would fight over where we were going to go. And it ended up we would have to go to both, because I wouldn't eat at Taco John and he wouldn't eat at Taco Bell. Those are the good memories."
The two even tried dating, but found they were "totally opposite people" and decided to just keep it at friendship.
Alex was notified of Matt's assault after Matt's father called another friend of Matt's, who in turn called him. They immediately went to the hospital.
"When we first went in, from the beginning, everyone knew that he wasn't going to make it. The doctor said there was a one percent chance he would make it," Alex said. "On Thursday, the assault happened on Tuesday, we went in and actually got to see him. And it was... I think if we were asked to identify if that were Matthew Shepard, we would never have been able to do it. If you look at his picture and saw the way he looked, his face was fatter than normal and it didn't look like Matt at all."
Alex also rejected any reports whereby Matt was interested sexually in his assailants, noting that they were definitely not Matt's type. He also doesn't believe reports that Matt was assaulted on a camping trip after hitting on one of his fellow campers repeatedly.
"I knew what happened with Matt and if something bad happened, Matt would tell me. I never heard of any problems he had getting beat up," Alex said. "Matt's not the person who would hit on anybody. He was a really shy person."
And despite the Fireside not being a gay bar, Alex said it wasn't unusual for them to hang out there.
"I can go in there and feel safe. Matt and I went in there many a time. It's a regular bar, a college bar," he said. "And Matt knew a lot of people that worked at the Fireside, so by no means would you think the Fireside was a place where this could happen."
One thing that Alex is still upset about is that Matt's family requested that he not attend the funeral in the main church.
"The media was not allowed in the church, and for that reason, I was not allowed in the church. I had been in the media and his family asked me not to go in the main church, which I had a real problem with," he said. "For me, I identify myself as Matt's closest friend in Laramie, and for them to say you're not allowed in the church really hurt me. But after talking to his mom a week or two later, I saw where she was coming from. Once I was allowed in the church, after being all over the media, I would be the first person they would try and get into the church with. And that's what his family didn't want."
Alex said that the appearance of "Rev." Fred Phelps and his anti-gay family members at the funeral didn't cause much of a stir, despite the media interest surrounding Phelps's plans to appear.
"There were picketers that came with signs for gays and lesbians, and I thought that was cool. You've got your people and we've got ours," he said.
Alex was born in Casper, Wyoming, and moved to Arizona to be raised by his stepmother and stepfather.
"I was raised in a very Baptist, religious, Bible-thumping way. When I was 12, I tried to come out of the closet, and the family had a problem with it," he said. "But at the same time, I couldn't stop who I am. Now, my mom and step-dad are both open to it, we talk about everything."
In retrospect, Alex things his being gay should have been obvious to them.
"I don't think I'm majorly feminine, but I'm definitely not the butch boy. I think it was obvious because when my older and younger brother were all into playing with He-Man and boy toys, I always ended up playing with She-Ra," he said. "If that doesn't make it obvious... but nobody got the hint. They thought I would be the first to get married and have kids."
Kids aren't out of the picture for Alex, but he wants to wait until he's more financially stable and in a long-term relationship. Alex and his current boyfriend have been going together for just over a month now.
Alex is already starting to miss Matt's phone calls, which used to be frequent.
"Matt and I would call each other every day when we woke up and see what we were doing," he said. "Or I'd call and see how he was doing in school. I'm already starting to miss not receiving any phone calls from him."
Alex also admits that he hasn't really dealt with Matt's death.
"I don't know how long it's going to take. There were phases Matt went through when he didn't keep in contact, and it just seems like one of those times," he said. "And when it actually hits me, it will hit hard."
But Alex said Matt's death doesn't end their friendship.
"We're still friends, and that will never change. Just because he's gone doesn't mean we're not friends," he said. "I was just in Wyoming, and the first thing I did was drive by Matt's apartment. And, to me, it's still Matt's apartment."
Alex can be reached online at HCActivist@aol.com.
Oasis Editor Jeff Walsh would love to hear your feedback on this article.