Monday, October 6, 2008

Remembering Matthew Shepard

When I posted earlier today about "Camp Out" and church ministry to LGBT youth, I did not realize that this is the 10th anniversary of the night on which Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten and left hanging on a fence outside Laramie, Wyoming, with a severely fractured skull. Matt Shepard died several days later on the 12th.

CBS News's "Early Show" interviewed Matthew Shepard's mother Judy this morning ( In response to a question about whether she believes justice was served when her son's murderers Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney both received two consecutive life sentences, Judy Shepard notes that she and her husband were satisfied with the verdict.

However, she believes, much remains to be done, when it comes to protecting LGBT Americans and assuring their rights. Vis-a-vis the murder, Shepard states, "The environment was set up for them that it was okay to do that to Matt." Though she sees positive changes in the cultural climate in the decade since her son's murder, Judy Shepard still finds the level of ignorance of many citizens high. She notes that many Americans simply do not know about the civil rights denied to gay citizens.

"The environment was set up for them that it was okay to do that to Matt": yes, sad to say, that remains true, I believe. And it underscores the imperative need for sanctuary places for gay youth to come to terms with their sexual orientations. As the murder of Larry King on 12 February this year in Oxnard, California, demonstrates, it is still dangerous for gay youth to claim their identity in American culture.

And in a cultural climate that still all too often spawns violence against youth perceived as gender transgressive, if communities of faith don't provide sanctuary, who will? Certainly, the LGBT community has led the way in reaching out to gay youth, and that's entirely appropriate.

But the churches and other faith communities? Are they not also committed to protecting the weak, to combating violence, to educating people to understand and accept difference, to binding up the wounds of those who suffer?

Why are ministries such as the one depicted so well in "Camp Out" so rare in a nation in which LGBT youth are still subject to manifold forms of violence? And in which, as Rev. Jay Wiesner notes, suicide or attempted suicide of gay youth is still a serious social problem?

Those of us with any connection at all to faith communities need to keep putting these questions to the churches, and not to be quiet until we have serious answers to serious questions.