A Rare Serious Column About the Death of Matthew Shepard

It's hard to be funny this week, folks.

Oh, I had some political stuff that would make you laugh fit to split your sides. But it's hard to be funny when you've spent as much time thinking about what I've been thinking about.

I've been thinking about Matthew Shepard.

For those of you who may not recognize the name, Matthew Shepard was a 21-year old student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. A couple of weeks ago, he was out doing what a lot of 21-year old students do: he was trying to get laid.

Only hitch was, Matthew was gay. He was also about 5 foot two and 105 pounds soaking wet. He hit up a couple of dimwitted high school dropouts who led him on at first, just long enough to get him into their pickup truck. Then they drove him outside of town, tied him to a fence and beat him nearly to death. Then they left him hanging on the fence overnight in the freezing cold. When he was finally found by a couple of bicyclists, he was too far gone. He died in the hospital.

There's so much to say about this, it's hard to know where to begin. Maybe I should start by observing that this incident should once and for all bury the notion that's been spread around recently that gay people aren't born that way, that they "choose" to be like that, that with enough prayer and therapy, they can "adjust" and become just like you and me.

"Choose" the gay "lifestyle?" Oh boy, you mean I can choose a lifestyle where I'll break my Mama's heart, I'll be constantly ridiculed in high school, I'll have trouble finding jobs and housing, I'll have the constant specter of a horrible disease hanging over me, and just for extras, I can worry about slack-jawed mutant yokels tying me to a fence and pistol-whipping me to death? Wheee! Where do I sign up?

Most of the gay people I know went through horrible periods of depression and self-loathing before coming to terms with the fact that this is the way they are and they might as well live with it and be happy. No one chooses that kind of anguish. (Yes, I do know several gay people. So do you, whether you realize it or not.)

One really sad thing about this situation full of really sad things is that Matthew Shepard is being turned into a symbol. Some activists are using this horrible crime as a justification for Federal Legislation against "hate crimes," crimes committed against people because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation. I can certainly understand the idea here. Whenever something really awful happens, our first natural desire is to do something to keep it from happening again, like enacting more legislation.

Problem is, it's not going to work. I have serious doubts that the two guys who killed Matthew Shepard would have been stopped by Federal hate crimes legislation. I can't see one of them turning to another and going "Hey, man, we better stop. This here's a Federal Crime." Problem with these two is they weren't thinking at all.

On the other side of the coin, some anti-gay religious group also tried to turn Shepard into a symbol by picketing the funeral. Yes, that's right, you heard right, they picketed the kid's funeral, carrying signs with such sensitive slogans as "God Hates Fags". Lovely sentiment. Wonder what God's position on idiots is? He certainly created enough of them.

Good readers, this is beyond tacky. Will someone please tell me what possible good these jackasses hope to accomplish by jeering at a dead man and humiliating his family? They say they want to "send a message." Oh, they send a message all right. I hear the message loud and clear. The message is that they are pack of imbeciles.

Can we at least agree on one thing? Can we agree that whatever you think is "wrong" with gay people, that they don't deserve to be tied to a fence in the freezing cold and beaten to death? Because if not, I need to go find another discussion and you need to check yourself into a hotel with some nice soft walls and those stylish jackets without any sleeves. If we can start by all agreeing on that basic proposition, we can avoid the need for hate crimes legislation. And, with any luck at all, we can avoid another incident like this one, and Matthew Shepard will not have died for nothing.


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