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Matthew Shepard Did Not Die In Vain

Opinion
OUTinPerth’s Nadine Walker reflects on the death of Matthew Shepard

In all its diversities, sexuality to me constitutes one of the core foundations of the human race. Our ability to love one another regardless of gender is something to be celebrated and embraced. Love is something that should be shared regardless of gender, race, class, or any other inhibiting categories that we tend to throw ourselves into.

My job as a journalist for a gay and lesbian publication exposes me to many things that conflict with my ideals of embracing diverse sexuality. Daily I hear of local, national and international laws or policies that aim to inhibit genderless love. I hear of hate crimes, where people lost to anger and a lack of understanding – ruthlessly beat and kill others, based purely on whom they love and why they love them. Oppression is one of the most devastating travesties to come out of homophobia; we all deserve freedom, more than anything else in this world. Day in and day out, the people of this world are denied that.

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As a lesbian who lives a life of relative freedom, it is concerning to think that if I were to change my geographical location, that would not be the case.

If I were to step over to Queensland, and mistakenly flirt with someone, they are legally allowed to fall into a momentary wave of insanity and kill me. This is called the Gay Panic Law, yes it exists, Google it.

If I were to hold hands with a woman in Malaysia, I would fall into the list of things to look out for as described by numerous seminars that take place in the country. These seminars ‘educate’ parents on what ‘gay’ looks like, and helps them nip it in the bud before it develops amongst their high-risk children.

Over in Uganda, illegally divulging my diverse sexuality would most likely result in death. Despite the ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill not passing through parliament in 2009, the first openly gay Ugandan man, David Kato, was ruthlessly killed just last year.

Now rewind fourteen years to a bar in Laramie, Wyoming, a state where it is legal to be gay. 21 year old Matthew Shepard, the same age as me, was lured to a car and driven to a remote rural area. It was there he was tied to a fence, robbed, beaten, pistol whipped, and left to die in a coma. Matthew was found still in a coma and tied to the fence by a passerby 18 hours later; he was initially mistaken as a scarecrow.

It’s hard to imagine injuries labelled too severe for a doctor to operate on – head fractures, severe brain stem damage, head, face, and neck lacerations. It’s even harder to imagine that these were earned based on allegedly loving the wrong gender. Matthew died at 12:53am at Poudre Valley Hospital on October 12th 1998, fourteen years ago today.

So what does this mean for me? For you? For anyone on this earth that may happen to fall in love with someone for the person rather than the anatomy? I know one thing is for certain, I sure as hell will not run nor hide, I will not bow my head and feel shame for who I love, I will not keep my sexual orientation hush, or let go of the hand of someone I love for fear of abuse. I will NOT deny who I am, for anyone or anything, regardless of unjust repercussions. I will be proud, and happy, and I will sing and dance and scream from the rooftops that I love women, and that your laws, and policies, and hatred and bigotry will not halt that.

Matthew Shepard did not die in vain. Thank you Matthew, for bringing hate crimes to the forefront, for letting the world see that murder driven by homophobia needs to end. Thank you Matthew, for helping me to understand that, although I might not be in immediate danger for being gay, there are people all over this world that are.  Thank you for helping to propel gay rights forward, so we can fight for equality, and the right to get married, and love who we love.

Thank you Matthew.

Nadine Walker

 

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