A time for reflection

Regina Garcia Cano

Ten years later, gay community still remembers Shepard’s death

Ten years ago, Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student, was killed because he was gay.

Since then, many members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community see him as a martyr for the cause of acceptance.

“I think that the intensity of the reporting on Matthew’s murder, along with the massive number of people who chose to come out in its aftermath, began to humanize LGBT people in the eyes of the heterosexual public,” Daniel Nadon, co-coordinator of LGBT studies at Kent State, wrote in an e-mail.

At the time of Shepard’s murder, however, many current college students were in their childhood years.

Freshman English major Denny Furlong said youths may not understand the significance of the murder because they were too young. But Furlong said they appreciate the effects of the attention to the crime.

“As a result of the previous generation’s efforts to create a comfortable area for all sexuality (and) all human beings to exist, we can now meet here on campus at PRIDE,” Furlong said. “We can drive into town and not be afraid of our sexuality.

“While many people still are, we are not confined anymore.”

Nadon said he believes Shepard’s youth and vulnerability fueled the media frenzy that followed his murder.

“He was chosen by these young men because they thought he was an easy mark, that he might have some money, and as a gay man, that he was expendable,” he said. “It was an attack on all LGBT people.

“Notice that McKinney and Henderson had also attacked a couple of Latino men that night.”

Nadon said he is certain that Shepard’s assassination was a hate crime.

Rachel Balick, spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign, said after race, sexual orientation is the most common cause of hate crimes.

For some members of the LGBT community, the Stonewall riots in 1969 are a watershed in the pursuit of civil rights. The riots stemmed from a confrontation between police and gay activists in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City.

Nadon said the reactions to Shepard’s assassination and those of the riots are somewhat similar.

“While Stonewall was a call to arms for the LGBT communities, the murder of Matthew, and of Harvey Milk in 1978, were calls for reflection on the part of all America,” Nadon said. “Enough is enough.”

Balick said because LGBT members have been put in the mainstream, college students welcome gays and lesbians more than their parents did previously. But she said people in general, including elected officials, need to be educated about the subject.

Nadon said he is trying to add Intro to LGBT Studies to the list of possible Liberal Education Requirements within the College of Arts and Sciences.

Contact minority affairs reporter Regina Garcia Cano at [email protected].