Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows

Jim Burroway

October 10th, 2008

Ten years ago today fell on a Saturday. For four days now, Matthew Shepard has continued to cling to life. He’s comatose, and breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

This day was also Homecoming Day for the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where Matthew had been a student. The homecoming parade consisted of the usual procession of floats and marching bands, but the final group to march in the parade was a late addition. It consisted of a disorganized group of about a hundred people — students, teachers, university employees, and townspeople. Many of them wore yellow and green armbands. As they marched quietly by at the conclusion of the parade, spectators began to step off the sidewalks and joining in. By the time the parade reached campus, somewhere between five hundred to eight hundred people had joined the march.

Later that day, there was a moment of silence at War Memorial Stadium just before the start of the game. UW players bowed quietly as they held their helmets at their sides. The helmets bore special emblems designed by the University Multicultural Committee in honor of Matthew.

Ten years ago today was also Homecoming Day at Colorado State University in Fort Collins — the very city in which Matt lay comatose and surrounded by family. CSU’s parade however was a little different. A float co-sponsored by the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority carried a scarecrow decorated with anti-gay epithets. The signs hung on the scarecrow reportedly read “I’m Gay” and “Up My Ass.” CSU quickly punished eleven students and banned the two organizations from campus.

Meanwhile, Poudre Valley Hospital continued to issued medical updates on Matthew’s condition, like this one at 3 p.m.:

Matthew’s major injuries upon arrival consisted of hypothermia and a fracture from behind his head to just in front of the right ear. This has caused bleeding in the brain, as well as pressure on the brain. There were also approximately a dozen small lacerations around his head, face and neck.

Matthew has a massive brain stem injury. The brain stem controls vital signs, such as heart beat, body temperature and other involuntary functions.

Matthew’s temperature has fluctuated over the last 24 hours, ranging from 98 to 106 degrees. We have had difficulty controlling his temperature.

Hospital actions have included the surgeon inserting an intraventicular drain into his brain to relieve pressure by draining spinal fluid. The drain remains in and functional.

We are also continuing to control Matthew’s temperature. He remains on a ventilator which is assisting his breathing.

That was followed by another medical update at 9 p.m.:

Since our last medical update at 3 p.m. October 10, Matthew Shepard has remained in critical condition.

Matthew is in the surgical-neuro intensive care unit in our Regional Neuroscience Center located within the hospital. He remains in critical condition with severe head injuries. Respiratory support continues to be provided. He remains on a ventilator.

Matthew came to us on October 7 from Ivinson Hospital in Laramie by way of ambulance. He was admitted in critical condition at approximately 9:15 p.m. October 7. When he arrived, he was unresponsive and breathing support was being provided.

Matthew’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, remained by his bedside and continued to refuse all requests for interviews. Instead, they released a statement thanking “the American public for their kind thoughts about Matthew and their fond wishes for his speedy recovery. We appreciate your prayers and good will, and we know they are something Matthew would appreciate, too.”

The statement went on the recall Matthew’s life and the values that he held:

“Matthew has traveled all over the world. He speaks three languages: English, German and Italian. He loves Europe, but he also loves Laramie and the University of Wyoming. We feel that, if he was giving this statement himself, he would emphasize he does not want the horrible actions of a few very disturbed individuals to mar the fine reputations of Laramie or the university.

They thanked the sheriff’s department and the hospital staff, and they asked the media for privacy, saying, “Matthew is very much in need of his family at this time, and we ask that you respect our privacy, as well as Matthew’s so we can concentrate all of our efforts, thoughts and love on our son.”

While Matt’s parents focused all of their efforts on their son, an estimated five hundred people gathered outside the hospital to keep vigil for him. The hospital has received so many flowers that nurses had started to distribute bouquets to other patients.

In Washington, D.C., President Bill Clinton and House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt both issued statements contemning the attack and calling on Congress to amend the hate crimes law to include sexual orientation.

Very little has changed since ten years ago. Pi Kappa Alpha was reinstated at Colorado State University about a year and a half after that infamous homecoming parade, only to be expelled again in 2005. Alpha Chi Omega’s charter for the CSU house was permanently revoked by the national organization. It now appears unlikely they will ever return to CSU.

Ten years later, the federal hate crimes law continues to cover race and religion. It still doesn’t cover sexual orientation.

And ten years later, Wyoming still doesn’t have a state hate crimes law to cover sexual orientation either.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard


October 10th, 2008

10 years ago today, I was still in high school, home schooled, not very aware of my own gay identity. So unfortunately I do not really remember hearing much about Matthew Shepard from that time of my life. Thank you for spending these several days writing about his life and final days. I appreciate the tone and that everything written has been respectful to those involved. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to pay my own respects and remember Matthew Shepard and his family.

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