Remembering Matthew Shepard 20 Years Later

I was so young when Matthew Shephard was brutally murdered, but we were all so young then. Matthew's murder made me feel how vulnerable it was to be different. To be queer.


I was in the closet when he died, and I wouldn't come out for another year. But on some soul level, I knew I was gay, too. I knew it could happen to me, in another place, in another time.

So an eventual gay bashing became a fact of life—I felt it out there, waiting for me. Maybe it would happen when I kissed my girlfriend in a parking lot, or maybe it would happen when some guy asked me out, and I turned him down.

I never got gay bashed, or at least beaten.

Homophobic slurs, all the time. Crude graffiti carved outside my apartment, which the police couldn't investigate, sadly so.

I cried about Matthew Shephard last week, with the anniversary of his killing. Nancy podcast did an interview with his mother, Judy. It took me back to that place of vulnerability and victimization, of finding out how dangerous this world of ours really was, if you happened to be queer.

The narrative these days is that we've all moved on and it gets better and that's just not fucking true.

Mathew Shephard died and the world stared down the horror of what happened to him, the veil ripped off their innocence. It was still a shock back then that people could be so cruel.

Columbine had happened, but school shootings weren't yet a daily ritual. The World Trade Center had been bombed, but the tower still stood.

How far we have come, in 20 years, in our collective tolerance for brutality. With our thoughts and prayers. With Parkland. With San Bernardino or Squirrel Hill. With the Boston Marathon bombing. With the Vegas shootings. The Pulse murders. The ongoing murder of trans women of color—27 in 2017, 22 so far this year.

I don't know their names, anymore. I don't mourn victims the way I used to. Not with mass shootings, not when I wake to the news that another trans woman of color was shot or choked or stabbed to death, by a stranger or by someone she loved. My world still spins safe enough on its tidy axis, or at least I can convince myself that it does.

And Yemen called us on that. Yemen, all but an official declaration away from a famine, disbelieving that all it took for the Western world to care about their plight was the brutal murder of a single man.

Matthew's murder brings back that fear and vulnerability. Those raw emotions that these days it's really hard to feel because there is so much calling out for our outrage.

I don't know how we step back from compassion fatigue. How we find our way to feeling all that cries out for us to do the work of healing, and getting to the work. But I fear where we're headed if we can't.