Today is also my birthday and this morning I joked on my Facebook that it would be fantastic if my birthday wish for passage of the Hate Crimes bill by the Senate came true.
A few moments ago, my wish became a reality.
I remember when Matthew Shepard was murdered for being gay. It’s as clear to me today as it was then. I remember the vigils, the hope and the fear. On October 11th, 2009, the day before the 11th anniversary of Matthew’s death, I stood only a few feet away from Judy Shepard. I looked up at her and saw my own mother staring back as she said, “My son was murdered by hate.”
I remember when I came out to my mother, she started crying. She was terrified for my safety, but I was young and immortal. A few months ago we had the conversation again – the one about my safety. Then I had the conversation with a friend, and another friend, and another… seems there is a lot of concern for this gay man’s safety simply because I’m a gay man.
I also remember when, in a small east Texas town just a few hours drive from me, James Byrd was tied to the back of a truck and dragged down the road because he was a black man. I marched on Austin, Texas shortly thereafter with about 500 brave people willing to march that cold and rainy day. We demanded, “Stop the Hate! Stop the Violence!”
The stories of victims of hate crimes could easily be my story, or your story. Judy Shepard could have been my mother – or rather, my mother could have been Judy Shepard.
When I quipped on Facebook that I would love my birthday wish to come true, I thought I would be celebrating the victory. Instead, I find myself drifting back to 11 years, 10 days ago when the world was told that Matthew Shepard did not survive. I remember the profound and lingering effect his death had on me. I remember my fear and how I allowed that fear to rule me for far too long.