Our View: Still a long way to go

DKS Editors

“What people mean when they say Matthew Shepard’s murder was a lynching is that he was killed to make a point. When he was 21 years old, the world’s arguments reached him with deadly force and printed their worst conclusions across him. So he was stretched along a Wyoming fence not just as a dying young man but as a signpost. “When push comes to shove,” it says, “this is what we have in mind for gays.”

– Richard Lacayo, “The New Gay Struggle,”

Time magazine, Oct. 26, 1998

Ten years ago, a 21-year-old boy’s murder became the launching point for publicizing and politicizing a very real prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in a country founded upon the principle that all are created equal. Overnight, an old railroad city in Wyoming became synonymous with one of the most notorious hate crimes of the 1990s and was epitomized in the award-winning play and movie, “The Laramie Project.”

It’s a tragedy, though, that many of us don’t remember because we were too young. Matthew Shepard’s murder may not seem like much of an anomaly. Not when hate crimes against LGBT minorities are on the rise – some groups even estimate that this year, an LGBT person was murdered every eight days. If equality and same-sex marriage are buzzwords in today’s mainstream media, LGBT hate crimes may have become equally as commonplace.

But while an opinion on gay marriage could make or break a presidential platform this election season, protections for an increasingly vocal and visible population seem to be an afterthought. And that’s why coming out is important.

Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DeRossi’s wedding and Clay Aiken’s coming out with his newborn on the cover of People magazine does something, but not everything. It’s hard to see past Lindsay Lohan’s Hollywood confession of having a relationship with another woman. While these headlines might warrant a double take and elicit surprise, they’re sensationalistic, and LGBT celebrity faces aren’t a sign that we can move beyond this struggle for equality.

We’re in the next stage of this liberation movement. Picket signs and public marches don’t work well for anyone anymore.

When someone comes out, those issues – the messages on those picket signs and historically shouted by activists – are suddenly so much more personal. It’s easy to distance yourself from images in the media on either side of the debate, but when a friend or family member whom you’ve trusted all your life finally has the courage to confide something so essential to who they are, what are you going to do?

If your mom, dad, brother, sister, boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, aunt or uncle came out to you tomorrow, would they deserve to be robbed, pistol-whipped, tortured and tied to a fence and left to die?

Matthew Shepard’s murder may not mean much to us today. But anti-LGBT attitudes are fueled by depersonalized political back-and-forth. If someone close to you comes out to you this week, support him or her. Coming out simply vocalizes a self-evident truth, and it’s the only way to truly change minds in this ongoing battle for an ever-present minority’s rights.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.