On October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard was beaten and tortured because he was gay. Tied to a fence in the middle of nowhere, he was left to die. Though he was found 18 hours later, he did pass away on October 12, 1998. Yesterday was 20 years since Matthew’s death.
I was a 13 year old 8th grader at Olympic View Middle School in Mukilteo, Washington, as these events unfolded in the media. As a confused and closeted young teenager struggling with understanding my own sexuality, events like this shaped my struggle for self and communal acceptance. What if I came out, could this happen to me? Could I be beaten and tortured for who I am? Could I be killed? My reality… Yes to all of it. This has been the reality for so many of us through the years.
For the idea of living your truth can be scary.
For the idea of living your truth can be crippling.
For the idea of living your truth can be confusing.
But here’s the thing…
Actually living your truth can be liberating.
Actually living your truth can help you become whole.
Actually living your truth can allow self-acceptance to blossom.
Now twenty years later, I reflect on the life of Matthew and what his murder needs to mean for us today.
This week was also #ComingOutDay. People will ask why the need to come out. Coming out can be a journey of identity and wholeness in the world. A world that otherwise reminds you that who you are, is often not seen as the ideal, even if subtly so. Coming out is an outward declaration of inward liberation. It is saying, this is me. Love me for who I am or don’t. Either way, I am moving forward in the light of radical love that dismisses anything that would seek to cage me in or create in me a need to be invisible. For who I am, is too authentic and real and bad ass to be contained or kept hidden.
May I not be mistaken. Living your truth can bring heartache. It won’t always be easy. There are some horrible people in the world. There are some misguided people in the world. There are people walking around with their hearts and minds closed. So why come out anyways? For the reasons I mentioned earlier but also, as a big ole F U to the people like the two boys who killed Matthew. Really though, so you can begin to find inner peace and healing and live your life being authentically you.
For those who are allies in the LGBTQIA+ community, remember that we need you. We need you to let us be our authentic selves, without degrading us as we figure our shit out. We need you to listen to our stories. Then, at times, we need you to share our stories, with permission, to your friends, family, co-workers, fellow church members, etc. You may be the only one who can reach them.
Society has come a long ways but the journey towards full inclusion is so far from over. Even just last night as I was at a high school football game with a friend in a small rural town in Southern Oregon, I recognized that anytime I mentioned something that alluded to my sexuality, I spoke quietly for fear of others hearing me. In that moment, I stepped back into the closet to reside in my false reality of safety. So in honor of Matthew Shepard, may the fight towards acceptance continue. It’s a fight we all need to engage in. It’s a fight that I, and those like me, need YOU to engage in with us!