Today is Oct. 12 2008. It has been ten years since the death of Matthew Shepard. A decade. I was fifteen years old when it happened, and I am positively sick at what’s happened to this country since then.
That young man died, the way countless others have, because he was gay. Not only that, but his death was one of the most painful, and long torture experiences I have ever heard of. This was the biggest national story about violence against homosexuality, probably ever. And still. Still, this wasn’t a big enough deal for our country to wake up from this homophobic nightmare that we all share, gay or straight. Whether you realize it or not.
And this is… This is stunning. I’ve been researching for this, and I … I just never imagined it would be this bad. This is an ugly awful truth about what homophobia has done to every family, every person in this country.
Homophobia is killing American children. Plain and simple.
The numbers are staggering… just the amount.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among those 15-24, and the fourth leading among children between the ages of 10 and 14. In 2005, 8 percent of high school students reported in a national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey that they attempted suicide in the previous year. 7.9 per 100,000 rate for 15-24 year olds in the US. If you live in a large US city, (my home in New York, for example with approximately 2003 population of 19,190,115) that means over 1300 suicides a year in that age group alone.
As many as one-third of those cases relate directly to the level of homophobia in the United States. Gay teenagers are the number one risk group for suicide in this country. But its bigger than that. This isn’t a “gay” problem. This is an American problem. Because all of our children, not just gay children, or the children of same sex couples, are in danger.
The climate of fear that has risen in this country has made the fear, just the FEAR, of being gay so much you’d rather die than even TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT IT! Fear that our parents will disown us. Fear that we’ll be dead of disease. Fear of always being alone. Fear of being hated, beaten, and yes brutally murdered in our own home towns.
Now this fear is something that everyone experiences, because (don’t even try to argue this, so help me) everyone has and will wonder about their own sexuality. What isn’t being made clear to our kids is that its okay for the question to be there. It isn’t something to be driven out, because you can’t.
So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re a straight family in a straight world, and hey you’ve even got an honest to goodness straight kid. Now what if you’re straight kid has a bully picking on him. Happens to everybody.
But do you know what those kids are saying to each other on the playground?
Faggot. Queer. Homo. On and on, you know the song! They use gay-bashing terminology first and foremost. It was true when I was 15 a decade ago when Matt was killed, and its true now while my 16 year old sister is there. Was it true when you were in school?
So, you’re wonderful, “perfectly” straight child has now had the fear of homosexuality injected into them by force. You laid all the groundwork, making sure they knew it was bad to be gay just so they would know how to handle this, right?
Wrong. You packed gunpowder into your kid as if he was a keg, and now this stupid child, a dumb bully using the words of hateful adults is going to set it off.
A child who realizes they are gay usually feels horror, or self-hate. What’s worse is, they think if they let anyone know that their life will be over. They don’t think, they KNOW that you will hate them for turning out “wrong”, “dirty”, “evil”, etc. They never talk to anyone. They break. And we lose them forever over this.
Can you live with that?
Is this the America you dreamed of creating for your children??
Homophobia weakens us, and it sickens us in ways you don’t want to look at, I know. It was hard to research this. I’ve never been so angry that I’ve just trembled, but this is it. Over a hundred thousand of our children attempt suicide each year. We can never know exactly how many of those kids were affected by homophobia but we do know that the number is high and entirely preventable.
First step! Passing the Matthew Shepard Act in 2009.
The M.S.A. is a bill to strengthen the Fed’s laws against Hate Crimes, which as of today, ten years after Matt’s death, only covers: race, color, religion, or national origin. It would be expanded to authorize the Dep. of Justice the power to investigate and prosecute those who commit crimes against those of actual or PERCEIVED sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. I think they’re looking out for disabled people on the last one, not insinuating we’re all gay and gimpy. It also eliminates the ridiculous requirement that this attack occurs while you’re engaged in a “federally-protected activity” like voting or going to school. This would also allow gender and gender identity to be counted in the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.
And while it is certainly important to get out and vote this Nov. for President, I feel its just as important that we make sure the democrats get a majority in congress. Sixty senate seats, at the very least. The Matthew Shepard Foundation is strongly supporting reintroduction of the bill (failed as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention act of 2007) in the House of Reps. March 20th, and in the Senate on April 12th.
Now I’m not the type to just trust the Democrats to do the god damned right thing.
That’s where you and I come in. I want everyone who sees this video, and can’t stand to see our country stoop any lower, to get out in their community and raise awareness on the issue. Not just preaching to your respective choirs either! Get out and open the discussion somewhere with someone you don’t know is going to like it. We need to raise the awareness before change can happen. Let’s see some letters to your local, state, and federal representatives. Democrats, I believe, will skirt the issue if they can. We have to push it! It will save lives.
Lives like that of a 15 year old boy in Oxnard, CA, who on Valentines day admitted to classmates that he had a V-day crush on another boy. The boy got wind of this, and the next day showed up to school with a gun and shot him in the back of the head. Fifteen year olds killing each other at school over homophobia… how far does it have to go?
There aren’t going to be any bigger signs, America. It’s time to stop it all. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. People are dying, children are dying, every day because of this fear we are letting control us.
America does not run on fear! I’ve had enough! No more bullshit.
Its time that the wacko’s with their hate had a turn at being silent. The way to get them there won’t be shame, or love, but action. We are American citizens and we have a responsibility to get the laws in this country changed. I feel like, we owe it to Matt too.
Jenime is an artist living in the SF bay area. You can watch her musings and ravings any time by visiting her channel on YouTube.