I was reading my daily news sites, and when I got to the Wyoming section of my reading list, I realized that today was the ten year anniversary of an event that had an important impact on my life.
Ten years ago, during my freshman year at the University of Wyoming, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence post outside of Laramie, beaten, and left to die. He was discovered the next day, still alive, but tragically he did not survive his injuries and died in a coma a few days later.
The reason most commonly given for the attack was the fact that Shepard was gay. His kidnappers/attackers had offered him a ride home from a local bar, and then turned on him, pistol whipped him, stole his shoes, and abandoned him.
In Laramie, the reaction to the killing was generally outrage. I remember a newcast where a hardened old cowboy took off his hat, shook his head, and said “That’s not the way we do things in Wyoming.”
One month into my education at UW, the quiet town of Laramie was turned on its head. Several opposition groups (some representing activist churches) protested loudly and spread messages of hate. One of my honors classes took time to discuss the events, to try to see what had happened from several points of view. Many in the community, including myself, wore yellow cloth armbands with three green circles on them to show that we supported tolerance, not hate.
It was a chance for me to reflect on what it meant to be Mormon. The saints had been victims of hate and violence a century and a half before. Christ spread the message of tolerance, love for all, and hope. I had seen outpourings of hope and love, but had also seen the dangers of taking religious beliefs too far.
The events of a decade ago have moved me to be more tolerant… to take a moment to remember that Jesus said love everyone, to treat them kindly too. Even if I don’t share belief or value systems, even if I find those beliefs and values repugnant, I try to remember there is a person underneath and that they have value.
Matthew Shepard changed me. I hope that we all can all be changed for the better by the tragedy of Matthew Shepard.