While driving through Wyoming today on my way to Denver I kept seeing signs for the city of Laramie. “Laramie”, I kept thinking to myself. I know that name. But why? “Laramie”... “Laramie Project”. Suddenly it dawned on me “Matthew Shepard”. Laramie is where Matthew Shepard was murdered... A chill went up my spine. I looked at my route and saw I was going to pass right through the city. I knew I needed to go... pay my respects... honor this person who by no choice of his own became a hero for the gay rights movement. In 1998 I was just beginning my personal exploration of my sexuality. I had come out to myself years earlier, but was still closeted to many friends and family members. I was afraid, maybe embarrassed or ashamed of who I was. Maybe just not wanting to feel the rejection I thought might come my way if people knew the truth. It was Matthew Shepard's death that made me realize it was time to stop hiding, to stop pretending that I was 'less than' because of who I chose to love and the sexual desires I had. Even today I feel myself resistant to saying the word 'gay' or mentioning it to new people or groups who aren't aware of my sexuality. I almost instinctively brace myself for the 'reaction' whether I get one or not. Sometimes I can 'feel' it even though nothing overtly is being said. Traveling through the rural parts of the US has made me even more aware of what a minority I am. I could feel myself 'butch up' my voice in certain areas, truck stops and gas stations, trying to be sure I fit in, that my voice wasn't too 'gay' sounding.
A quick google search gave me the location Matthew Shepard was found... still alive... terribly beaten... tied to a fence post and left to die... He died 6 days later in the hospital. I like to think everything that happens in this world happens for a 'reason'... that ultimately the good that came from that incident was 'worth it'... that the boys who beat him had their own struggles, fears and personal torments... that ultimately we are all just struggling spiritual beings trying to make our way in this world... but as I drove up to the site all I could do was cry. The sun was shining so brightly in the brilliant blue sky over an old dirt road. No fence, no memorial, no sign of what happened at this place 21 years ago. Just a few 'no trespassing' signs that were obviously posted by irritated residents who lived near by. I thought I could do Language. I thought I could offer some prayer of love and forgiveness. I thought I could offer a thankful word to Matthew... but none of that came. Just tears and more tears. I began to think about all the other minorities that have been affected by brutal violence caused by hatred, fear, ignorance and confusion... and I wept more... about how much farther we still have to go.
I turned around on the road and headed back up the dirt lane where I came from. As I was driving back I saw a young boy, maybe 10-12 years old, blonde hair and bright blue eyes riding up the same dirt road on his bike. He smiled at me and waved, I smiled back and nodded my head, hoping my sunglasses would hide my tears. Then I realized so clearly. This is why. This is why we have gone through these struggles. To make this world a better place for these young ones growing up today. I think about how far we've come in the past 20 plus years and I'm so thankful for the leaps and bounds we have made as a country. Yes, we have a long way to go yet and there's still much more love we have to open our hearts up to. But, there's still time. There's still time to make this world a better place... for every young boy, every young girl, every gender identity, every cultural and religious background. It is each and everyone of our personal responsibility not to fight, but to LOVE. To LOVE one another fully and completely, no matter who or what we are. That is the one and only answer. And when you begin to realize that your belief system (no matter what it is) starts to hurt someone around you step back and re-evaluate what it is you're doing. Are my actions always of LOVE or have I let some misplaced belief system replace that LOVE with judgement, out of fear, out of confusion or misunderstanding. Doesn't matter. It is all of our responsibility to learn that type of LOVE. If ANYTHING is missing in our world today it is our capacity to show unconditional LOVE. First for ourselves and then for the other.
So, my challenge to you today is to find ways that you can share that LOVE with the world around you. However you can! By smiling at a stranger on the street, by giving a hand to someone less or even more fortunate than you, by acknowledging the beauty of WHO YOU ARE fully and completely and by not hiding any aspect of yourself to please 'the other'. So while my heart was heavy today, I came away with a smile on my face. As that young boy smiled and waved back at me, I couldn't help but think that was Matthew letting me know that everything is OK. That things ARE getting better and we ARE progressing. However slowly, it IS happening. To all who read this, please know how much I LOVE YOU. Truly LOVE you. Even if you've judged me or disagreed with my beliefs or my personal expressions, I still LOVE YOU and see that spark of CREATOR that exists in each one of YOU as it does in ME. And I wish you only LOVE and happiness on your journey. And with that, my deepest prayer is that we can each spread that LOVE to EVERYONE around us. Period.