Today I drove from Salt Lake City, Utah to Laramie, Wyoming. The word “Laramie” is infamous in the minds of LGBTs across the country. This is where Matthew Shepard was killed. Many gay folks have made a pilgrimage to Laramie, to see where the most famous anti-gay hate-crime took place. I had to see for myself.
As I drove closer to Laramie, I became more emotional than I was expecting. Just seeing the name of the city on the green highway signs made a lump form in the throat. This is probably because the play about Matthew Shepard’s murder, “The Laramie Project”, and the film by the same name, use the “LARAMIE” sign as the image for the production.
I finally reached the city. Driving through the streets, I thought about the things I was seeing, and wondered if they were the same things he had seen when he lived here. Surrounding the city are hills and plains with barely any trees. The wind blows like I’ve never experience before. I thought about Matthew being tied to that fence, with the wind howling. He must have been freezing.
I headed to the University of Wyoming, where Matthew went to school. There I found the bench with a memorial plaque dedicated to Matthew Shepard. The plaque reads:
MATTHEW WAYNE SHEPARD
DECEMBER 1, 1976 – OCTOBER 12, 1998
BELOVED SON, BROTHER, AND FRIEND
HE CONTINUES TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
PEACE BE WITH HIM AND ALL WHO SIT HERE
I sat on the bench and thought about all that has happened since Matthew was murdered 10 years ago. Progress is being made. Congress is on the verge of passing The Matthew Shepard Act, a hate-crimes bill that will protect members of the LGBT community nationwide. I looked around at the beautiful campus of the University of Wyoming and hoped Matthew liked it here.
After visiting the bench, I went to the outskirts of town to find the famous “LARAMIE” sign. There it was. Seeing this sign struck me harder than anything else in town. There may be a memorial bench dedicated to Matthew, but it is this sign that I had come to see. It is this sign, this picture, that I have connected with the death of Matthew Shepard for 10 years. Seeing the words, the letters, L-A-R-A-M-I-E, moved me. Of course I never new Matthew Shepard and have no personal connection to him. But I do, like every other LGBT person, have a personal connection to his story, his life, and his death.
Hate-crimes are considered as such because they are not only crimes against the victims, but against an entire community. The murder of Matthew Shepard was also a crime against a 16-year old Chris Mason in Lunenburg, Massachusetts. I had come out two years earlier and was now being shown that I could be killed for being gay. It made the anti-gay threats I heard in the halls of my high school much more real, scary, and deadly.
I never expected to be so moved by this town. I put it on the itinerary because it seemed like a good idea to stop here for the film. I never thought my heart would race like it did or that I would be so nervous to see the town. I had internalized more of this story than I had realized.
After seeing the “LARAMIE” sign, I jumped back on the highway and headed out of town. I felt a sense of relief wash over me. I felt better after being here. I took a deep breath and drove on.
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