For those of us LGBTQ members of a certain age in 1998, the death of Matthew Shepard brought to life everything we feared about being “out” in America. Many of us had friends — or perhaps we ourselves — who had experienced hate crimes; anything from slurs, or bottles hurled from speeding cars, to the actual altercations that left us bloody on the street.
On Oct. 6, 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was taken — under the auspice of receiving a “ride home” — to a remote rural area in Wyoming by two men, robbed, pistol-whipped and tortured, then bound to a fencepost and left to die. The report filed by police, when he was discovered 18 hours later in a coma, stated that his face was obscured by blood, visible only where his tears had cleaned tracks on his flesh. Matthew died on Oct. 12, 1998.
Fast-forward 10 years to 2008. An election is upon us posing two primary questions in our community: “Will we see a shift to a black, Democratic President?” and “Will we defeat Proposition 8, and see marriage equality maintained in California?”
What many of us were no longer talking about was the hate crime legislation including sexual orientation that had languished unsuccessfully for the 10 years since Matthew’s death, the latest attempt named “The Matthew Shepard Act.”
Against that dramatic political scene, two friends, Benny Cartwright and Rick Cervantes, wanted to remember Shepard on the 10th anniversary of his death, and met at the John Robert Wear Hate Crimes Memorial Plaque, located at 1029 University Ave. They simply placed a ribbon, candle and photo of Matthew at the plaque to honor his memory.