by iampunha | 10/07/2008 08:00:00 AM
They left him tied to a fence, beaten to within inches of his life.

A few days later, those inches had become an inch, the inch tenths, the tenths fading into immeasurability and the measure of a man unconscious in a hospital.

"Doctors said [his] skull was so badly fractured they couldn't operate; an autopsy showed he received 18 severe blows to the head and bruises to his groin and inner thighs. Shepard also suffered a massive brain stem injury."

Faced with this ... inhuman act, this barbarism of cold and calculating measure, show me the father who would not have lashed out at his son's alleged murderers, the mother who would have looked at the accused, then the accuseds' parents, and asked if this was how they had raised their sons.

Instead, their determination and legacy, now 10 years after their son was beaten to within inches of his life and left to die in the frozen air of Wyoming, can be summarized by the two words on a purple bracelet that has adorned my left wrist for more than 2 1/2 years:

Erase hate.

For the nameless victims of hate crimes, from lynchings in the South to those gay-bashed everywhere.

And for those they left behind.

Erase hate.

That's how Matthew Shepard's mother, Judy, reacted to her son's murder. Matthew Shepard died Oct. 12, 1998, five days after two men (and I use the term biologically, not culturally) beat him and left him to die.

And Dennis Shepard, Matt's father:

By the end of the beating, his body was just trying to survive. You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone. There were his lifelong friends with him—friends that he had grown up with. You’re probably wondering who these friends were. First, he had the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope. Then, he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time—one more cool, wonderful autumn day in Wyoming. His last day alive in Wyoming. His last day alive in the state that he always proudly called home. And through it all he was breathing in for the last time the smell of Wyoming sagebrush and the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind—the ever-present Wyoming wind—for the last time. He had one more friend with him. One he grew to know through his time in Sunday school and as an acolyte at St. Mark’s in Casper as well as through his visits to St. Matthew’s in Laramie. He had God.

I feel better knowing he wasn’t alone.

Erase hate. Even through the ultimate tragedy of their child's murder, the Shepards reacted with dignity and pride.

Some months ago, higher-ups from New York came to visit my workplace to see how things were going. I'm told they visit every year or two, so this was a nontrivial event.

I had planned to wear a long-sleeved shirt to work that day. I usually wear long sleeves; they keep the office so cold that I start getting sick if I'm not sufficiently covered.

I had every reason in the world to wear a long-sleeved shirt that day, in particular because of the chance that one of the higher-ups would see my bracelet and know what it was -- or not.

So of course I forgot and wore a short-sleeved shirt.

And on the second sweep-by of those higher-ups, one of them asked what that purple thing was on my wrist.


See, being from New York doesn't mean you are professionally pro-gay or even neutral. It can mean that, but I try not to assume anything (and am often pleasantly surprised).

So I said, as "water is wet" matter-of-factly, "A bracelet."

"Could I see it?"

As I took it off, I debated turning it inside-out just in case the glance was cursory.

Mid-takeoff, I decided no. Screw that. If I'm going down for a fucking bracelet, I'm going down with those nine capital letters -- "ERASE HATE" -- and the Web site,, in full view. Someone doesn't like it? Fine. In a market that ain't great for print media, throw money at a lawsuit and a replacement for me (and not as good a worker, if I do say so myself).

The man in the suit looked at the bracelet, turned it over in his hands, then gave it back to me.

"Thank you," he said slowly enough and with enough eye contact that ... I think he got it.

I think he understood exactly what that bracelet means. Did he for sure? I'll probably never know. Maybe he just is a nice guy who appreciated that I showed it to him, and he just noticed it because, hello, it's purple on Irish white (actually mildly tan, largely because of freckles).

Or maybe he knew. I think he did. It's not as famous a bracelet as the livestrong or wriststrong ones, but it's a distinctive color, and anyone who was media-aware in 1998 knows who Matthew Shepard is and was.

I like to think he knew, and I like to think someone close to him has a very good (and very peaceful) reason for him to know. Maybe he's got a gay kid or other close relative. Perhaps some invaluable employee who took him under their wing many years ago later confided something that gave him a change of heart.

Perhaps, maybe, I wonder if.

And maybe not, but the body language suggested otherwise, and pretty strongly so.

Ten years later, we are erasing hate. My remaining grandparent (excusing my wife's grandfather and step-grandmother, who don't know or at least haven't been told) was born 20+ years before Truman integrated the military (and Eisenhower later enforced it) and couldn't be less concerned with my sexuality or her niece Bridget's (or that niece's partner) than she currently is.

Ten years later, my younger brother has a T-shirt with three marriage icons -- one het, two gay -- and the words "It's all good."

Cried when I saw that shirt.

But 10 years later, we still lack adequate hate-crime legislation. The Matthew Shepard Act will likely be passed next year, and conservatives and bigots across the country will all be highly offended that this infringes upon their religious expression.

So let me say this as kindly and lovingly as I can:

This is not a heated debate on the place of religious expression in the public square. This is a heated debate over, of all things, the right of religion to justify assault and MURDER.

If your God is such a pathetic piece of shit that he (or she) advocates hating other people to their death because they don't love the right adults, that's your problem, not mine.

And if you honestly have a problem existing near me because I am different, go back to the beginning of that sentence.

YOU have a problem.

And while you so much do not want to come after me -- before we moved, I lifted weights when I was bored, and I benched 400 pounds -- you want even less to be made a national figure of hate, an example of why we need hate crime legislation so you really have to think four or five or 50 times about beating the shit out of some masculine-looking woman who says, after several promptings, each less romantic than the last, that she won't date you, but she'd go for your ex-girlfriend. (Oh, and any such violence would probably further galvanize the movement for harsher punishment for you and yours.)

And if your religion would defend that action, that violence, the laws of civility and peace absolutely should trump the laws of intolerance and bigotry.

For that matter, if your religion supports spreading hate of any sort, what exactly are you getting out of it? Superiority over other people? Yeah, boy, what an equality-loving Sunday morning that must be. "Blessed are we, who are way the hell better than those evildoers. God is not mocked." Give me your tired, your poor, your ... straight, white Christians. (Give me "Republican National Convention attendees" for $100, Alex.)

Or you could be like my father, who is thoroughly Catholic and thoroughly my father, and doesn't see how any love is spread by telling people they're going to hell, let alone thinking you're so secure in your after-life station that you can begin assessing other people's. Really? You're so set that you can begin junior-modding heaven?

Dennis Shepard again:

Matt’s beating, hospitalization, and funeral focused worldwide attention on hate. Good is coming out of evil. People have said “Enough is enough.” You screwed up, Mr. McKinney. You made the world realize that a person’s lifestyle is not a reason for discrimination, intolerance, persecution, and violence. This is not the 1920s, 30s, and 40s of Nazi Germany. My son died because of your ignorance and intolerance. I can’t bring him back. But I can do my best to see that this never, ever happens to another person or another family again. As I mentioned earlier, my son has become a symbol—a symbol against hate and people like you; a symbol for encouraging respect for individuality; for appreciating that someone is different; for tolerance. I miss my son, but I’m proud to be able to say that he is my son.