Rev. Jane’s guest editorial on eighth anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death
Published on Saturday, October 14, 2006
BY THE REV. JANE EMMA NEWALL
Some thoughts from a pastor on the eighth anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death:
* Marvin died on Maundy Thursday 2003 in Toppenish.
The first report was natural causes, but someone had messed up his trailer and run his Ford truck into a ditch at another location. Police also suggested Marvin had died of autoerotic asphyxiation, but ultimately, authorities concluded a few weeks later that the gay man had been strangled.
The crime remains unsolved.
* The couple wore smart outfits and had colorful flowers at their Holy Union. Their families sat in the church as they exchanged their vows and rings.
At a later date at Grant’s, the couple ate dinner with co-workers. But they took off their rings that night so no one would notice that they matched one another as they wrapped their hands around their beers.
* The 17-year-old was semi-coherent in his hospital bed by the time his mother found me.
He wanted to be baptized. He had asked the pastor of the church where he was a member of the youth group, but the pastor had denied him because of his sexual orientation.
So with holy water added to by tears, I baptized him with the Holy Spirit and marked him as Christ’s own forever. Days later, I stood over his grave as classmates read poetry. The brain tumor had caused his death.
* The teacher wears a plain unblessed wedding ring on her left ring finger, an item that has become part of a costume. Her students call her “Mrs.” Perhaps no one will figure out that she loves a woman and that they have been together for more than a decade.
“If people see me eating dinner with you they will think I’m a lesbian,” she said over a meal at a Mexican restaurant. “You wear men’s jeans, have short hair and drive a pickup. People look at you and think you are a lesbian, which you are.”
“And,” I told her, “I eat dinner with straight people, too. They don’t worry about such things.”
* Two men had been a couple for nearly 40 years when one came home to find the other dead on the couch.
He had intentionally overdosed on his diabetic mediations.
* A 42-year-old man died in the hospital of diabetes after parts of his body had been amputated to save his life. Those close to him said there was a giving up at the end.
I led a service remembering him in church and placed his obituary on the bulletin board. Those of us at church went to the memorial service his family planned.
Had the funeral home not had his picture, we may have thought we were at the wrong service as many of the songs talked about the love of a woman. The family tried to make his casket a permanent closet.
All of the above scenarios happened to people I have pastored in Yakima. Most of these people have chosen to stay invisible because of fear, real or perceived.
When I am public about gay issues, I get messages on my church answering machine talking about the ways in which people imagine me dying.
Eight years ago this week, Matthew Shepard died. He was beaten and tied to a fence, which he hung on longer than Jesus hung on the cross. He was killed because he was gay. In this country, at least one person every other week is killed because they are gay.
Yakima School District administrators think “The Laramie Project,” a play written with a variety of voices to explore the attitudes behind the Shepard slaying, is too controversial for Yakima.
Students were asked to find a play that explores tolerance, but when they found one, they were met with intolerance. Intolerance fueled, the students believe, by political fear of a school bond not passing if the play is performed.
The powers that be believe that Yakima is not ready for “The Laramie Project.” Yet these attitudes are the same ones that leave Marvin’s murder unsolved.
Ten percent of the Yakima community is estimated to be gay. We are your teachers, administrators, parents of students in public (and private) schools and students themselves. We pay property taxes. Our sexual orientation crosses all ethnic groups.
If “The Laramie Project” cannot be performed now, then when? And if not for this community, then for who?
* The Rev. Jane Emma Newall is the minister of Yakima’s Rainbow Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church.