Cathy Renna

Oct. 7, 1998: Matthew Shepard found, let's find the others now

Filed By Cathy Renna | October 07, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: hate crimes against LGBT people, jr warren, Matthew Shepard

Ten year ago today, Laramie Police Dept. Officer Reggie Fluty went to the scene reported by a bicycle rider - a young man tied to a fence and obviously beaten very badly. Her words in the Laramie Project - that "the only part of his face not covered in blood were where he had been crying" haunt me to this day. This was the day Matthew Shepard was found.

We have already seen much coverage in anticipation of the ten year mark of his death this Sunday, October 12. I was there. Not 48 hours after his body was found I was in Laramie helping local activists, students and Matt's friends handle the overwhelming response to the attack and his death. But that's not the point of this post. Let's talk about the others - the ones who did not get the attention they deserved.

I will try and post every day this week, as a memorial to Matt and all of the others we have lost to hate violence. In their names. After working on dozens of hate crimes in my activist career, the most common question I still get is: "why did Matt's murder get so much attention?" You want the short answer (trust me, the long answer is a presentation with powerpoint)?

The short answer is all about who Matt was and who we are as a community. He was white, educated and in many ways the archetype of the "good gay." Was this really the truth? I watched Judy Shepard speak at American University last night, as always a powerful voice for diversity and, as always, she kept it real. Matt was not perfect, he was a beloved child, but flawed like all of us. His family loved him and misses him horribly. Their ability to turn grief to action humbles me every day in my work with the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

So today, instead of another re-telling of a story we are all too familiar with, I ask you to google a couple of names: J.R. Warren and Sakia Gunn. I also worked to get the media - and the community - to pay attention to these brutal hate crimes, without nearly as much success. Read their stories, see who they were. Do the math. Ask yourself why the thousands who hit the streets for Matthew Shepard in new York City could not take the PATH train to Newark for Sakia. Why was I one of a bare handful of white folks are her funeral? Why indeed.

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The short answer is all about who Matt was and who we are as a community. He was white, educated and in many ways the archetype of the "good gay."

Yes I could not agree more. This is why I think that it is important to take an intersectional approach when we begin to fight against the institutionalized isms that exist to create certain members of society as less than. It certainly is not helped when the black community continually fails to point out homophobia or transphobia within our community. Sexism,racism, cisexism, and heterosexism are all poisonous fruit of the same tree.

"the only part of his face not covered in blood were where he had been crying"

I hadn't heard that, but it'll stick with me too. So vivid and heart breaking.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | October 7, 2008 11:00 PM

There are moments when I am filled with an almost uncontrollable rage. It usually occurs when hearing about yet another LGBT person who has been attacked or murdered.

I am still surprised that not more people in our community stand and say "enough!"

Cathy, it's apropos that I'm reading this during National Coming Out Week. Because Matt's death was a wake up call for me and is a big reason why I'm out today. I was attending BYU when Matt was killed, and I remember thinking that I had to get out of there. I've always been impressed that his parents were able to ask that his killers be given leniency during their sentencing so that they wouldn't receive the death penalty.