Archive for October 12th, 2008

Matthew Shepard Anniversay…

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Fear, ignorance, hatred take lives of Shepard and King

 

Matthew Shepard

 

Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. Ten years ago, on a cold October night on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, the 21-year-old gay college student was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead. He was found 18 hours later and rushed to the hospital, where he lingered on the edge of death for nearly five days before succumbing to his injuries.  OFFICIAL WEBSITE

 

 

On the night of Oct. 6, 1998, a young man in Laramie, Wyo., was brutally beaten and then hogtied to a split-rail fence where he lay for more than 18 hours. The 21-year-old, who had been left to die, was Matthew Shepard.

 

Six days after the savage attack, Matthew died with his family by his side.

 

His death was a wake-up call. Many were appalled by the horrific, senseless nature of the crime. But as time passed, we forgot. We were lulled into complacency until last winter.

 

On Feb. 12, almost 10 years after Matthew’s death, our community was struck by a similar tragedy. Fifteen-year-old Lawrence King was shot in the head by a fellow classmate in his English class. Though doctors initially thought he would survive, he was declared brain dead the next day. Lawrence died two days later.

 

Although Wyoming and California are hundreds of miles apart, and these tragedies are separated by an entire decade, they are tied together by common threads.

 

Matthew was brutally killed for being gay. To justify their crime, his attackers said they were driven to violence after Matthew hit on them. Attorneys for Lawrence’s shooter have used a similar line of defense. According to friends and classmates, Lawrence told friends he was gay. He was sometimes harassed for his appearance. I was overwhelmed by the fact that such violence could take place right here in my own community. Hadn’t we learned our lesson after what happened to Matthew Shepard?

 

Lawrence King

 

The facts are still emerging in Lawrence’s case, but what is clear in both of these heartbreaking instances is that two lives were cut drastically short because of fear, ignorance and hatred. Neither Lawrence nor Matthew will have the opportunity to realize their dreams, to enjoy another Thanksgiving with their families, to watch a movie with friends, to pursue a career and find their places in the world.

 

These tragic deaths highlight the need for us to stand up and ensure young people feel safe in their schools and in their communities, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We must find a way to prepare teachers and parents to deal with school bullying and hate in our communities. We must ask ourselves, do we want to be responsible for creating an environment where gay and transgender youths live on the margins of society in fear, or do we want to lead the charge in fostering an environment where everyone is valued, accepted and nurtured?

 

As Californians who value fairness and just communities, we must resolve to put a stop to bias-motivated crimes and such vicious acts of intolerance. Implying that an openly gay victim shares responsibility for being attacked, or that an attack was justified because of an unwanted romantic or sexual advance, is totally unacceptable. We must focus on solutions, so that no family and no community is touched by this kind of violence and bigotry ever again. After another decade passes and we pause to remember the deaths of Matthew and Lawrence, I pray that we will live in place where no one is targeted for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

Jay Smith is executive director of the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance in Ventura.

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