Today Matthew Shepard, had he lived, would have been 39 years old.
Instead, he forever will be remembered as a gentle-looking, young 21-year old who was left for dead on a cold Wyoming plain, crucified for being gay.
I spoke recently to his friend Michele Jouse. Michele attended boarding school with Matthew when they were teens.
Now, years later, after almost two decades of rage and grief, she gathered her emotions and was able to make a documentary film, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine.
I interviewed her on my radio show, Out in Santa Cruz.
Many of us thought we knew Matthew. We didn’t. Not like those in his real life did.
Today, many people don’t know him at all.
As I talked about the interview to several straight people, the response was often, “Who is Matthew Shepard?”
I replied: “Matthew Shepard was the young man who was crucified at the hands of homophobia. He died so I didn’t have to.”
Here’s my letter to Matt. Happy birthday, young man, wherever you are.
It is your birthday today, yet I’m thinking of your death.
I will never forget how that atrocity became seared into my psyche, and onto the psyche of thousands.
For the vast majority of people who hadn’t ever given a single thought to LGBTQ rights, you represented the “kid next door.” Their neighbor. Their own child.
Your death rightly terrified them.