Matthew Shepard was brutally, savagely, and fatally attacked 13 years ago tonight, possibly exactly thirteen years ago at the very moment you are reading this now. It took a battle of eleven years to get what became the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to pass and get signed into law. Thirteen years ago, Matthew Shepard, a gay, 21 year-old college student who stood 5′ 4″ tall, and weighed just one hundred pounds, was lured out of a bar by two men claiming to be gay. He was robbed, pistol whipped, brutally beaten and tortured, and tied to a fence like a scarecrow and left for dead until someone came by and found him in a coma eighteen hours later. (At first they thought he was a scarecrow.) Matthew died six days after his inhuman hate crime assault. His two assailants did this to Shepard because he was gay. They are now in jail. These are facts. They have been proven many times over.
“Shepard suffered a fracture from the back of his head to the front of his right ear. He had severe brain stem damage, which affected his body’s ability to regulate heart rate, body temperature and other vital signs. There were also about a dozen small lacerations around his head, face and neck. His injuries were deemed too severe for doctors to operate. Shepard never regained consciousness and remained on full life support. As he lay in intensive care, candlelight vigils were held by the people of Laramie.”
John Aravosis at AMERICAblog reminded me of this, as he writes tonight,
He wasn’t found for nearly a day, still barely alive in the 30 degree weather, the only part of his face not covered by blood was where the tears had streamed down. The attack on Matthew, and his subsequent death a few days later, was a galvanizing moment for the gay community. It was one of only a handful of moments I can think of, in the twenty years that I’ve been out, that something changed in all of us, nationwide, at a much larger, meta level.
Within a day of hearing of the story I set up a Web site to help coordinate news about his attack. It was called Matthew Shepard Online Resources. The site, and its accompanying bulletin board, quickly became the main organizing point for our community and our allies, and for a good year it advocated for amending the US’ already existing hate crimes law to include gender, disability and sexual orientation. The Republicans blocked legislation, and it wouldn’t become law for another eleven years.
The Republicans did block legislation, and in typical GOP style, lied about the facts.
On April 30, 2009, I wrote,
“The hate crimes bill that’s called the Matthew Shepard Bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay. This – the bill was named for him, hate crimes bill was named for him, but it’s really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.”
So said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R –NC) yesterday in a full session of the U.S. House of Representatives, in her bid to defeat the “Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009”, H.R. 1913, better known as the Matthew Shepard Act. There was one special guest in the House too: Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother.
For Virginia Foxx to lie to the world, and to Matthew’s mother, is not only unacceptable, it is unforgivable. And it is time for Virginia Foxx to resign.
At the time, Keith Olbermann called Rep. Foxx’s statement “The most despicable thing said on the floor of the House in decades.” He goes on to say, “She is at best callous, insensitive, criminally misinformed, at worst, she is a bald-faced liar… She is not worthy to represent this country… she is our shame.”
A few days after Foxx’s lies on the floor of the House of representatives, The New York Times wrote, “Luckily, Ms. Foxx is part of a dwindling — if still too vocal — minority. A Hart Research poll released in February 2007 found that 73 percent of those surveyed support hate-crimes legislation that protects gays.”
In the weeks that passed, we started a group called FireFoxx, which still exists, although we’ve moved on to covering other anti-gay haters. On May 27, 2009, I penned this letter demanding Foxx resign. She never responded.
Rep. Virginia Foxx also never fully apologized for her out-right blatant and hate-filled lies. Nor has she resigned. In their “wisdom,” the people of North Carolina have seen fit to re-elect Rep. Foxx, who since has delivered even more hate and more lies to the American people.
Despite her lies, and those of other Republicans, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed and was signed into law five months later, almost to the day.
Sadly, Shepard endured unimaginable torture. Sadly, Matthew Shepard died, on a cross, literally, but not metaphorically. Shepard did not die for our sins, he died by the sin of others: the sin of anti-gay hate, the sin of lack of compassion, the sin of lack of empathy, and the sin of ignorance.
Rest in peace, Matthew Shepard.
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