PRIDE! remembers Matthew Shepard at vigil


Shane Flanigan

Roxie Patton, LGBTQ Center program coordinator, speaks to members of PRIDE! Kent during a vigil for Matthew Shepard outside Taylor Hall at the Victory Bell October 12. Shepard was brutally murdered on this date 14 years ago because of his sexual orientation. People and organizations around the country honor Shepard and others who were lost to murder or suicide because of their sexuaity on the anniversary of his passing.Photo by Shane Flanigan.

Madeleine Winer

Balloons floated in the sky Friday night as members of the LGBTQ community released negative feelings surrounding the deaths of those who have lost their lives to murder and suicide because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

PRIDE! Kent hosted a vigil to commemorate the passing of Matthew Shepard, who was tortured to death because he was gay. Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming and died October 12, 1998 after being attacked and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming.

“We reflect on the progress we have made in the past 14 years and how much progress we need to make for those who are LGBTQ or otherwise oppressed,” said Justin Lagore, president of PRIDE! Kent.

The vigil started with a prayer led by the Rev. Julie Fisher of the Episcopal Commons at Kent State. She asked for a blessing to be extended to all LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) youth and adults, who, overcome by stress and sorrow, are tempted to seek relief in suicide.

Roxie Patton, program coordinator for the LGBTQ center, reflected on remembering Shepard’s death and said the vigil signified that members of the LGBTQ community were no longer going to stand by silently as people are hurt, wounded and killed just for being who they are.

“It’s easy for us to look back at that time and think we are so far away from it all,” Patton said. “This happened 14 years ago which is shocking sometimes. The fact is people are still being murdered, tortured, isolated and harassed for their sexual orientation and gender identity across America and around the world.”

Caleb Valle, freshman economics major, said Shepard’s death was a “huge injustice to the gay community” as the teenage suicide rate of those who identify as LGBTQ increases. He said PRIDE! is a support system not just for members of the LGBTQ community but also the university.

Justin Kalinay, senior anthropology major from the College of Wooster, said he came to the vigil because Shepard’s death helped him come out to his mom after he saw how she was “outraged” by the killing.

“We need change in society so that people no longer think that way,” Kalinay said. “We need to make certain this never happens again. He is still inspiring change beyond the grave 14 years later. The power of that is huge.”

Meredith Aistrope, freshman exploratory major, said she thought of the vigil as a celebration of Shepard’s life. It made her reflect, she said, on the people who are struggling with their gender identity and how she would feel if she were to lose one of her friends.

Patton said Shepard’s story is a reminder for the LGBTQ community to not allow people’s ignorance to change their identity.

“I have seen so many people in my generation, so many beautiful LGBT people, who have fought to survive and fought to live through this horrible atrocity,” she said. “We have to make sure we do everything we can to show how much we love each other and not how much we want to tear other people apart.”

Contact Madeleine Winer at [email protected].