On the anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death in 2004, 43 marriage equality activists and I stood at the Fireside Lounge, the bar where Matthew Shepard was last seen alive.
We were crossing the country on a bus tour that I co-led called the Marriage Equality Express. Many of us had been married in San Francisco earlier that year and had our marriage licenses invalidated by the courts. We were stopping in towns all across America reaching out to our fellow citizens about why we needed and wanted the right to marry and the access to those 1,138 federal and state rights.
Some of us were in bi-national relationships and needed immigration rights like Martha McDevitt-Pugh who is exiled to the Netherlands, legally married there, able to bring her dog back to the USA, but not her wife. Some were LGBT veterans who were denied the right to serve openly and give their unrecognized spouses veterans benefits. Others needed health insurance, social security, all of us needed equal respect and equal rights. There were also PFLAG parents and UU ministers with us.
We were headed for DC for the first ever Marriage Equality Rally at the U.S. Capitol which was held six years ago today on National Coming Out Day. You may have never heard about it because it was not supported by the major LGBT orgs fearing we would get Bush elected if we spoke out for our rights.
Anyway, one of the places we stopped was Laramie, Wyoming. We visited the University Matthew attended and we shared our hearts with the students. Some who were initially hostile began crying as we told them why we needed equality.
Dave O'Malley, the sheriff who investigated Matthew's murder joined us on the bus and told us about how he had been against gay people until he saw what happened to Matthew and began talking to other LGBT people in the Laramie community. He began weeping that he was sorry he had hurt us with his prejudice and that he wanted us to know that he loved us and he was working to change the laws. It was so powerful it brings tears to my eyes now.
Some of us, including me, shared our own experiences of being victims of hate crimes. It was painful, but important. Then we drove to the Fireside Lounge where Matthew was last seen alive.
When we arrived it was a beautiful sunny day. We stood in a circle to honor Matthew. We prayed that hate crimes against LGBT people would end and as we stood there, the sky turned dark and hail poured from the sky. When we were done praying and singing, the sky lightened again. We felt Matthew was shedding tears with us. It was surreal.
Here we are in 2010. We've finally passed the hate crimes bill, but we lag behind in so many other things. I'm grateful that marriage equality exists in a few pockets of the country, but it's not enough. We need more people to stand up for equality. We need to put an end to bullying and violence against LGBT people. We need more people to come out and straight allies to come out. And we need to acknowledge our own incredible courage for living our lives out loud.