Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jim Toevs co-founded the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission. In 1992, Jim was the Democratic nominee for Congress against then-closeted Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe. He resides in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.
Fourteen years ago tonight at 12:53am on October 12, 1998, Matthew Shepard died at the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, after being on life support since his brutal torture and beating the night of October 6.
On National Coming Out Day, it is entirely fitting for us to pause and remember this young man whose death created a media sensation which contributed to an explosion of grief for Matthew's suffering and a tsunami of support for LBGT equality, the likes of which the United States, indeed the planet, had never experienced before or since.
Matthew's death was a transformational event. I have never understood the level of my own personal grief, which I still experience at times; it took the form of a deep, sobbing grief for several years every time I thought of Matt and the ordeal which he suffered. Matt was tied to a buck fence in a remote area outside of Laramie, Wyoming, was tortured, brutally beaten, and left to die by his assailants on that cold October night.
Since that night, I have made the pilgrimage to Matt's fence at least a dozen times. I cannot explain why, but each time it has been a comfort to me and my most recent visit, on August 26 of this year, was a truly mystical experience.
I had been visiting a nephew and his family just north of Denver. I was driving to Montana, and drove a little out of my way to visit Laramie and Matt's fence. The location is close to town, but somewhat difficult to find, even though I have been there many times.
It was hot, I was wearing sandals, and the high elevation made me a little short of breathe. I stopped for a moment to rest, and when I looked up, not more than thirty yards away from me was a beautiful, buck Pronghorn Antelope staring directly at me.
I gave a soft whistle, which he acknowledged with his ears, and then he slowly moved ahead of me, and I followed along. Every ten or twenty yards, he would stop, look at me, and then continue, and with me following behind.
Then he stopped, looked off in the distance, and when I looked to see what he was looking at, it was Matt's fence about fifty yards away from where I was standing. I was overjoyed, and when I looked back at the antelope, he was gone.
I walked down to where Matt had been left unconscious, leaning against the buck fence, and someone had made a heart on the ground out of rocks. There were some dead flowers inside the heart, and a weather-worn card which I could still read. I added another rock to the heart, and sat on one of the rails of the fence. I meditated for a while and then made my way back to my vehicle. It was one of the most touching, incredible experiences of my life.
I cannot explain what happened that day with the antelope and Matt's fence: and I don't need to. What I do know is that when I had just about given up finding Matt's fence, the most beautiful Pronghorn Antelope I have ever seen led me there. And in my experience, "coincidences" are often the way the universe lets me know that I am in exactly the right place at the right time.
Thank you, Matthew Shepard. You remind me that every day can be my own personal coming out day, and that it is possible for us to achieve full legal LBGT equality in my lifetime.