San Diego Remembers Matthew Shepard
It was a cold October evening that I can never forget. It hadn’t snowed for a few days but there was still a little bit of the white stuff still on the ground. I had lived in Fort Collins, Colorado for only a few months at this point and was still trying to find my way around. In a time before MapQuest, it took me a half hour to find Poudre Valley Hospital because it was in an area of town I had yet to explore and all I had to go on was a torn out map from a phonebook I took from the front desk of my dorm.
I saw the line of news trucks. I saw the people camped out on the front lawn of the hospital. I had to park 5 or 6 blocks away because it sits in a residential neighborhood and there was only on-street parking available. One resident placed an orange road cone in the street to save a parking spot. Another placed a trash can with piece of notebook paper taped to it that read, "NO PARKING PLEASE."
I ended up going to that hospital twice more. The third night I went would be the last. On October 12, 1998, a little over an hour after I left the candlelight vigil outside of the hospital, Matthew Shepard, fighting for his life inside, died. To this day, I can’t hold a candle in vigil without remembering that cold October night.
On October 9, San Diego residents came together for the 14th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student who was tortured and murdered near Laramie. Walking through the gay neighborhood of Hillcrest, marchers remembered victims who lost their lives in the fight for equality, including John Wear, a 17-year-old hate crime victim who was murdered on the street nearly 21 years ago.
In the 14 years since his death, my path has crossed with Shepard’s more than I had ever thought possible. I never knew whether his death would have the impact it has had on this country and on the dialogue around hate crimes or the struggle for equality, but I had hoped, and continue to have hope, that his memory will never be forgotten.
Walking through the heart of the gayborhood, marchers walked past names, scribbled in chalk on the sidewalks, of victims who lost their lives in the fight for equality. The tone was muted but hopeful during the almost one-mile walk to The Center.
"I think it’s important to remember what we’ve gone through so we can keep fighting for what we don’t have," said Eric Hufford, one of the coordinators of the San Diego Remembers Matthew Shepard event.
Fearing that a younger generation of LGBT activists might feel alienated or put off by the establishment activists of an older generation, the evening’s coordinators decided to honor the memories of those lost while engaging a new breed of advocates in an event that was geared more towards a community looking for a place to belong.
"San Diego Remembers strives to be vigilant and empower people to get involved and change not only the community, but the world we live in," said Hufford.
"For me it’s really important that this conversation is still going on," said Jim Osborn, a staff member at the University of Wyoming and a personal friend of Shepard’s. "One of my biggest fears has always been that people will forget what happened to Matt."
Events like these ensure they will not.
James Darvas, who participated in the remembrance Tuesday night, sees activities like this as important both for the victims of hate crimes as well as the greater public.
"Events like this shine light on other violent things that have happened to this community," said Darvas. "Anytime the community can come together for a solid purpose like this, it is completely beneficial."
Mark Butterfuss, another attendee, moved to San Diego a year ago and has been trying to find a way to participate in community events. He believes he found a place he belongs at the San Diego Remembers event.
"I haven’t found a place where I feel like I fit in," said Butterfuss, "but this was a great night. It was nice to feel like a part of the community."
Osborn believes that evenings like this are making a difference, not only in Laramie, but across the world. He sees events like this one as a way to bring the community together while creating a dialogue about the violence that LGBT people face, empowering them to stop it.
"It is so important that people keep talking about Matt and remember what happened so that, down the road, we don’t have as many attacks, or murders, and people out there who are LGBTQ, or who have been affected by this violence, will understand that they’re not alone," Osborn told EDGE.
It has been 14 years since that Wyoming wind last passed through Matthew Shepard’s hair. It has been 14 years since he was left to die, his hands bound behind him, tied to a split rail fence. It has been 14 years since my life, and the lives of countless people across the globe, was changed by a picture on TV of a young man with a small body and a big heart who wanted nothing more than to be a friend.
Fourteen years later, though only a few people knew him, Shepard has managed to become a friend to us all. Here’s to absent friends.