Remembering Matthew Shepard as We Confront Homophobia Today

My 50th college reunion approaches, and it makes me aware of how much things have changed.

When I graduated from Hamilton College in 1968, it was an all men’s school, and none of my classmates was openly gay. By the time we celebrated our 25th reunion a good number had come out.

For much of my career, I was silent on the issue. I regret that silence because there are events, which force us to confront who we are and how we think. There are events, which motivate us to change.

For me such an event was the tragic death of Matthew Wayne Shepard. Murderous thugs savagely beat Matthew Shepard, and then hung him on a fence post like a scarecrow to die for only one reason in Laramie, Wyoming on October 6, 1998. He was a homosexual.

His horrible death taught me I could no long stand idly by the issues of rights for gay and transgender individuals. His death taught me that we are all either part of the problem or part of the solution.

Matthew Shepard could have been anyone’s brother, son cousin or friend. His horrible death evoked appropriate outrage across the country.

But his death also unleashed acts of homophobia and hatred too despicable for adequate description. A TIME Magazine article by Steve Lopez noted, “While his family prepared for his burial and spoke of Shepard’s gentleness and tolerant ways, a Kansas minister with a website called made plans, “to do a grave dance at the funeral.”

In Fort Collins, Colorado, some members of Colorado State University fraternities and sororities rode atop a homecoming float with a scarecrow figure, which resembled the body of Matthew Shepard, tied to a fence post.   The float makers attached a sign to the Shepard like figure, which read, “I’m gay.”

Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network noted, “People would like to think that what happened to Matthew was an exception to the rule, but it was an extreme version of what happens in our schools on a daily basis.”

For too long religious teaching has been part of the problem. To my sadness homosexual hatred finds its greatest support in the words of our Hebrew Scriptures

“Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.” (Leviticus 18:22) And, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death — their bloodguilt is upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).

I have no cute exegetical tricks to re-interpret these passages.   Like many other biblical verses to which I could point they have no validity and make no sense in our times.

As Rabbi, Jerome Davidson, of Great Neck, NY, noted in reference to homosexual acts, “The Bible (only) knew of these acts in the context of war, coercion and idolatry– not in the context of loving, caring relationships.”

For me here is a prior, more enduring passage that supersedes those I quoted earlier: It is the Torah’s first story that teaches that God created human beings in God’s image, in the very image of God.

I believe homosexual men and women are the way they are because God made them that way. If God made people a certain way, how dare we judge them inferior to the way God made others?

When it comes to our LGBT neighbors, every day each of us must choose: Are we part of the problem or part of the solution?




8 thoughts on “Remembering Matthew Shepard as We Confront Homophobia Today

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s