Rode Hard And Put Away Wet

my God, where do these days go?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Tiptoeing Through Father Time’s Tulips

Dateline: Nov. 19, 1998. I was a Senior in college at the prestigious Ouachita Baptist University. In order to fulfill my communications practicum, I had started writing editorials for the newspaper – The Signal. I’m going to reproduce in full one of those editorials here, for reasons that I can’t put my finger on.

Janna and I were going through some of my old stuff the other day. I came across my stamp collection from when I was a kid, some elementary school papers, a Golden State Warriors banner (who knows why I had that – I’m from Florida), etc. I also found this issue of The Signal. Without further ado – here it is:

A Time to Heal

By: John Barber

On October 11, 1998, Matthew Shepard was severely beaten, burned, and tied to a fence post for 18 hours in freezing temperatures. After being pistol-whipped with the butt of a .357 Magnum, the attackers lashed Shepard’s body to a fence in a rural field. Then, they set him on fire. He was found the next morning by a passing bicyclist. The man stopped after realizing that Shepard was not a scarecrow.

On October 12, Matthew Shepard died from his injuries. It was truly a tragic event for the students at the University of Wyoming and the residents of Laramie, Wyoming.

Shepard, according to his friends, family, and classmates, was a peaceful, loving, quiet, and sincere man. He was a junior at the University of Wyoming, a political science major who had aspirations of engaging in politics someday.

So, why did this happen? Why Matthew Shepard? It happened because he was gay. Or, more to the point, it happened because two of his classmates believed that because he was gay, his right to life was revoked. He died because of homophobia.

What exactly is homophobia? It may sound like the state of being afraid of homosexuals, but that’s not it. Homophobia is a hate directed at gays or lesbians based on their sexual preference. It can also refer to behavior or acts based on that hate.

Violence toward homosexuals is not nearly as rare as you would think. In 1997 there were 2,445 reported cases of anti-gay violence in America. Nineteen percent of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals report having been physically abused at one time in their lives, due to their sexual preference. This hate is manifested in many forms, from murder to simple assault.

Where does this hate come from? Well, it’s not only radicals who practice homophobia. Often it’s not quite as radical as we might think. Sometimes it’s a little closer to home. For instance, a Baptist church.

The Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, operates a website with the address www.godhatesfags.com. The purpose of this web site is to inform the public about the opinions and activities of the church and its congregation. Specifically, Westboro targets the issue of homosexuality because of the “hot-button” nature of the issue. It is imperative to act on the issue of homosexuality because, according to their website, “Fags march up and down the streets, demanding that we accept their filth.”

Why does Westboro use the word “fag”? The web site’s FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) says: “A ‘fag’ is a fire brand. A ‘fag’ is used for kindling – it fuels fire. ‘Fag’ is a metaphor used in the Bible, for example, in Amos 4:11. Just as a ‘fag’ fuels the fires of nature, so does a sodoite fuel the fires of God’s wrath.”

One of the church’s main activities is picketing funerals. Usually they carry signs bearing slogans such as, “GOD HATES FAGS,” “AIDS CURES FAGS,” or “FAGS BURN IN HELL.” Not surprisingly, the church was on hand for the funeral of Matthew Shepard. Westboro chooses to picket funerals in order “to warn people who are still living that unless they repent, they will likewise perish.” Funerals are specifically targeted by the picketers because, “When people go to funerals, they have thoughts of mortality, heaven, hell, eternity, etc. on their minds.”

The church isn’t the only place to find homophobia. It doesn’t just thrive among the Ku Klux Klan or the Skin head community; it exists among normal, everyday people. Russell Arthur Henderson, 21, and Aaron James McKinney, 22, seemed to be perfectly normal college students. Now, they are awaiting trial for the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard.

Homophobia doesn’t have to evidence itself in violence or picketing. It’s in your thoughts. It’s in the jokes you tell at lunch. It’s in the way you look at somebody you pass on the street. It’s in your heart.

Matthew Shepard was a 21 year old college student. He had blond hair and brown eyes. He had a loving family and faithful friends. He isn’t some nameless, faceless queer that you hear about on the news or in class. He’s just like us.

For the sake of people like Matthew Shepard, homophobia must be treated just like any other form of discrimination. People get hurt; people die because of homophobia. Homosexuals aren’t animals. They aren’t sex-crazed maniacs. They are people like you and me.

Homophobia is hate – just like racism is hate, just like religious intolerance is hate. I hope Matthew Shepard’s story makes you check you heart. If it doesn’t, look at his picture. Imagine he was in your Western Thought class, at your lunch table, or sitting next to you in Tiger Tunes. Then think again. He’ll make you check your heart. He made me check mine.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Ron said...

Well done John.

I was just speaking on something very similar yesterday.

Sorry I missed you, but it was good to see your better half.

Love you bro.

9:15 AM  
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