Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's hate got to do with it?

"Matthew Shepard was only twenty-one when he was pistol-whipped, tortured and left to die, tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyoming. All of this savagery for one grotesque reason ---young Matthew Shepard was homosexual.

Half a world away, his mother, Judy Shepard, was awakened by a call from the hospital telling her what had happened. Five days later, Matthew died. It was a murder, not for profit, not for revenge but for hate. And because of that the death of Matthew Shepard shocked the country and the world. In the aftermath, Judy Shepard, almost crushed by her son's death, decided to do something about that kind of hate."

And so I began my Sunday morning to the dulcet tones of Michael Enright's introduction to The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio One.

The previous day I had been giving some thought to what I should post this week and quite remarkably, a number of ideas came to mind. In other words, a lot of stuff really pissed me off.

Prorogation? Obvious and way too easy. The shelving of the HIV Vaccine Research project that Harper so proudly proclaimed alongside Bill Gates in 2007? What else is new? There are many more examples of his flying monkeys pulling levers in the background as he struts about the world stage reciting platitudes.

Then there was the State of Union Address Wednesday night where President Obama delivered another inspirational speech that was immediately drowned out by the bellicose pundits of Fox news and the Republicans. It seems to me that American politics have morphed into a vast national football game with Democrats facing Republicans - adversarial and single minded in its goal to defeat the opponent.

Then I heard Judy Shepard on Michael Enright's show. She was telling Michael how she and her husband Dennis felt at the trial of their son's murderers. Their ability to contain their anger and remorse was a saintlike example of Christian charity that puts to shame all those religious zealots out there that have missed the biblical message that Jesus was all about loving your neighbour.

As many parents of victims have done, the Shepards, instead of wallowing in victimization and grief, somehow found the strength to establish a foundation in their son's name that has as its mission to "Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion & Acceptance".

They have worked tirelessly over eleven years to bring programs to schools and communities to give a face to the GLBT community as well as to the victims of hate; be they gay, black, muslim or just different. That hard work was finally rewarded eleven years after President Clinton first requested that sexual orientation be included in the federal hate crime laws of 1968.

In October, 2009 the Federal Hate Crimes Bill was amended to include the provision, called the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It is named after Matthew Shepard, and James Byrd Jr., a black man who was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death the same year.

Among the many things that resonated with me this morning was her statement that GLBT people face persecution all over the world even in countries such as ours where we have equal protection under the law. Yes, we have it so much better here than say, oh Iran. But we can't be complacent. We can't assume that because we can get married that we can't be assaulted, or that young people can't be made to think their lives are worth less than their friends and classmates. Will there ever be a time that I don't second guess myself when I want to give my husband a kiss or embrace him on a street?

We can't and shouldn't assume that older gay men, who face alienation from their own community and intolerance from their families and caregivers, can't be made to feel humiliated and perverse.

This gem of a comic strip got the full print treatment in the Notre Dame Student Paper, The Observer:

Character 1: "What's the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?"
Character 2: "No idea."
Character 1: "A baseball bat."

Having legal rights is one thing, being treated equally with respect by your family, friends, workers, and fellow citizens is quite another.

The battle raging over same-sex marriage has little to do with protecting the sanctity of marriage and everything to do with hating someone's lifestyle as it pertains to who they love. That State after State has enacted laws barring same-sex marriage or rolled back the rights of those who have gained it for a brief moment, speaks of the very troubling level of hate that exists in the land of the free, home of the brave.

I have no doubt that this is a civil rights battle. As Canadians didn't stand aside and idly watch the 60's civil rights movements from the safety of our liberal north; we shouldn't be expected to stand by and not help where and when we can in this one.

In a country whose level of ignorance is only topped by their level of obesity, can it be a surprise that hate is so rampant? IGNORANCE=HATE.

I wish that I had the wisdom and charity of a Judy Shepard.

Matthew Shepard Foundation Organizational Video from Matthew Shepard Foundation on Vimeo.


The Matthew Shepard Foundation was founded by Dennis and Judy Shepard in memory of their 21-year old son, Matthew, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998.

Created to honor Matthew in a manner that was appropriate to his dreams, beliefs and aspirations, the Foundation seeks to "Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion & Acceptance" through its varied educational, outreach and advocacy programs and by continuing to tell Matthew's story.

Read Dennis Shepard's address to the jury here:


  1. Anonymous1/2/10 16:46

    And here I was having an afternoon lost in self-pity and loathing. I read this and it humbles me. Yes, as a woman I still, sadly face some unfortunate stereotypes, but I am, in this country at least- Free. Free to be who I am and am completely accepted for it. many younf gay men and women did not, and in many places, still do not, have that freedom.
    thank you for this posting Ray...for putting things in perspective.

  2. Thank you for reading this and understanding.

  3. Great post. I heard Judy Shepard on CBC Sunday also and what I thought was going to be heartbreaking - and at times was - actually turned out to be inspirational when she talked about lessons and working to help people change and evolve. Fantastic woman.


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