Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
This article can be found at:
Latest Posts

Posts for October, 2008

Today In History: The Vigil

Jim Burroway

October 11th, 2008

Ten years ago today, Matthew Shepard lay quietly in the surgical-neuro intensive care unit of Poudre Valley Hospital in Ft. Collins, Colorado, surrounded by his family. This was his fifth day since that awful night. Despite his comatose state, doctors recommended that his family remain there and surround him with things that would be familiar to him in case he had any lingering awareness.

We don’t know much about the scene in the hospital that day. Matthew’s parents, Dennis and Judy, haven’t talked about it publicly. Whenever they’ve spoken publicly since then, they’ve always remained focused on Matthew’s life, not his suffering.

But we do know that ten years ago today they spent every minute that they could at his bedside, surrounding him with as many familiar things as possible. Beyond that, we can only imagine the scene.

But we can imagine that, among the many thoughts that must have raced through his family’s minds, they must have reflected on the many events in his life that they shared with him, the good times and the bad.

They must have thought about their son growing up in Casper. Kids do grow up so quickly, and Matt was no exception. And yet to them, Matt still must have seemed like such a little boy. He was born prematurely, and he struggled to survive as an infant. He was always small for his age — at 21, he still only stood five feet, two inches tall. He started wearing braces at the age of thirteen, and he still had braces as he lay there in that hospital bed.

It must have been very hard to see him laying there quietly like that, a son that was know more for his boundless energy. He wasn’t a star athlete while growing up, but he did played soccer. And in the Cowboy State Summer Games which were held every year in Wyoming, he ran the five-kilometer race and swam the 50-meter freestyle. He entered the swim meet at the last minute knowing that he would likely finish last, but that wasn’t going to stop him from trying. He finished last.

His friends described him as walking with a characteristic bounce, and his playful energy every room he entered. He just seemed to exude a certain kind of energy, the sort of confidence that comes from acting in in community college plays in Casper at the tender age of twelve. When he was a high school junior, he and his family moved to Saudi Arabia where Dennis worked as a construction safety engineer. Matt spend the summer there, and then he went off to boarding school in Switzerland. There he discovered a facility with languages, quickly learning German and Italian.

And yet, he wasn’t always so confident. His parents knew there was always something different about him. His mother says that she knew her son was gay since he was eight. She saw him struggling with himself as he negotiated the tricky minefields of relationships with school friends and neighbors while trying to keep his secret to himself. And she saw him struggle as he tried to figure himself out. But she didn’t try to bring up “the subject” with Matt, opting instead to wait until Matt was ready within himself.

Matt didn’t come out to her until he was eighteen, and even then he couldn’t do it face to face. He came out during a middle-of-the-night phone call. Her response? “What took you so long?”

Matt was more hesitant to come out to his father, and that reluctance had placed a strain between them. Matt had built up this worst-case scenario in his mind that his father would reject him. After all, he had been Matt’s soccer coach, and they had taken many hunting, camping, and fishing trips together along with Matt’s grandfather. You know, the guy stuff that Matt loved doing with his father and grandfather. But more to the point, he didn’t want to disappoint them or risk their rejection.

So when Matt finally decided to have “the conversation” with his father, he took a deep breath and nervously told his dad that he was gay. And then he just waited for Dennis’s reaction. To Matt’s immense relief, his father just said. “Yeah? OK, but what’s the point of this conversation?”

And with that, they went back to just doing guy stuff again.

But of course, that confirmation did lead to a sense of loss with his parents — no bride-and-groom wedding, daughter-in-law, grandchildren — those things. But they quickly got over it. They still loved him.

And besides, that loss was nothing like the one they were facing now.

As Matt lay there, it was probably easy to think of him as an angel. But he was still only human. He had his foibles. His mother would later recall that he smoked too much — including a little weed from time to time — he drank too much sometimes, and he didn’t study enough.

And now there was something else to worry about. Just after Matt was admitted to the hospital, they conducted an HIV test as part of a standard battery of tests. Matt came up positive. He had been tested every six months for the past three years, ever since he was sexually assaulted in Morocco, but those tests always came up negative. Was this a delayed reaction? Or, more likely, was this a very recent infection? In any event, it’s probable that Matt himself didn’t even know.

There was always things to worry about with Matt. Despite his small size, he was very quick to stick up for himself and others, and he didn’t always care who the offender was. If he saw something that he knew was wrong, he couldn’t let it go by. What’s more, he really did seem somewhat naive about his belief in the innate goodness in people. And that, coupled with his size, had scared both of his parents. It made him vulnerable in Morocco, and it made him vulnerable wherever he saw an injustice.

We don’t know where Matt’s family’s thoughts ran as they sat with him ten years ago today in that surgical-neuro intensive care unit, with the ventilator, the temperature, hearbeat and blood preasure monitors, and all the other equipment around his bed. It’s virtually impossible for anyone else to put themselves in their shoes.

But we do know that ten years ago today outside that intensive care room, the nurses were distributing an over-abundance of flowers to patients throughout the hospital, and hospital staff were busy fielding phone calls and emails from around the world.

And we know that ten years ago today in Laramie, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, members of the LGBT Association gathered to observe the tenth National Coming Out Day to kick off a week of activities for Gay Awareness Week. The gathering took on special meaning ten years ago today, not just because of the somber reality of Matt’s beating that week, but also because Matt was missing from among them. He had helped to plan some of those events.

And we know that ten years ago today, Bill McKinney, father of Aaron McKinney, one of Matt’s attackers, told Reuters that while there was no excuse for what his son was accused of doing, the attack didn’t deserve national attention. McKinney was also quoted as saying, “Had this been a heterosexual these two boys decided to take out and rob, this never would have made the national news.”

And we know that back in Fort Collins ten years ago, Poudre Valley Hospital put out one more medical update. It read:

As of 3 p.m. today, Matthew Shepard continues to remain in critical condition with severe head injuries.

As of today, the hospital will no longer offer medical updates on a scheduled basis as we have for the last three days to accommodate the media. We ask that you use our phone-in line and our web site to keep track of Matthew’s medical condition.

If Matthew’s medical condition changes, we will issue a new medical update and, depending on the significance of the change, we will immediately contact as many members of the media as is practically possible.

Ten years ago today, as crowds continued to gather outside the hospital to keep vigil, Matthew Shepard lay quietly in the surgical-neuro intensive care unit, surrounded by his family and the things he loved. This was his fifth day since that awful night, and it would be his last full day with his family.

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

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

Also Today In History: Details Emerge

Jim Burroway

October 9th, 2008

Ten years ago today, Matthew Shepard’s attackers were arraigned in court.

According to reports, Aaron James McKinney and Russel Arthur Henderson, both 21, were arraigned on charges of attempted murder, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery. Two accomplices were also arraigned. They were Chasity Vera Pasley, 20, and Kristen Leann Price, 18. They were charged with being accessories after the fact.

Fireside LoungeAccording to reports that had emerged to date, McKinney and Hendersen befriended Matthew at the Fireside Lounge, told him they were gay, and lured them to their pick-up truck to give him a ride home. Somewhere near the Wal-Mart, McKinney turned to Matthew and said, “Guess what? We’re not gay, and you’ve just been jacked,” and started beating him inside the truck. They drove out to a field on Snowy Mountain View Road, then dragged Matthew to a fence post, where he was “tied spread-eagle, beaten and burned,” then left to die.

It would later emerge that Matthew hadn’t been burned, nor had he been tied “spread-eagle.” Instead, his hands were tied behind his back, and tied to the fence post just a few inches above the ground. But this early report of being tied “spread-eagle,” along with early descriptions of his being mistaken for a scarecrow, led to later images of Matthew hanging by his arms, appearing as an upright scarecrow or as someone who had been crucified.

Court documents told a clearer story. Shepard was “struck in the head with a pistol,” and the suspects “beat him, while he begged for his life.” According to one report, Shepard received a 2-inch deep gash in his head, crushing his skull. They took his wallet and shoes, and left him tied to the ranch fence, unconscious and barely breathing. The temperature had dropped into the low 30s during the 18 hours Shepard was left outside.

Then McKinney and Hendersen then met up with Pasley and Price, who helped them dispose of their bloody clothing.

Laramie Police commander Dave O’Malley said that while robbery was the chief motive, Matthew was singled out in part because he was gay. He also added that in his 25 years on the police force, he had seen a few hate crimes over the years, “but nothing anywhere near this.”

Matthew was unconscious upon discovery. He has not regained consciousness since then. “They’re not expecting him to ever wake up,” Walter Boulden, a friend of Matthew’s, said.

McKinney and Henderson were then involved with another assault within the same hour. Further investigation stemming from that assault eventually led police to the suspects in Matthew’s beating.

Flowers At the Fence PostA basket of dried flowers appeared on the fence post where Matthew Shepard was left to die. The Denver Post reported that one local resident “wasn’t shocked to hear a gay man had been beaten so severely.” She said: “Here in the rural West, such intolerance still is not that unusual.”

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

Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”

Jim Burroway

October 9th, 2008

Ten years ago today, Dennis and Judy Shepard, exhausted by their long travel and numbed by the news, stepped into the intensive care unit of Poudre Valley Hospital and saw their son, Matthew Shepard, for the first time since seeing him off to college just a few months earlier.

Dennis and Judy were in Saudi Arabia, where Dennis worked, when they got a call in the middle of the night. Phone calls in the middle of the night is never good news. For Dennis and Judy, the news was beyond imagination — beyond belief. The Shepards had to endure a nineteen hour wait for a flight to begin their long thirty-hour journey to Fort Collins, Colorado. During that long flight home, they had no idea that news of Matthew’s beating had made headlines worldwide. They saw that it was front-page news when they arrived in Ft. Collins, but they didn’t know the extent of the attention nationwide.

When they got to the hospital, staff had to sneak them in to avoid the press. Once they got inside the hospital, the outside world disappeared.

“That sort of information just washes over you when you are trying to be there for your son,” Shepard said of the media attention showered on her family. …

“Dennis likened it to a prairie fire; it went so fast,” Shepard said of the media explosion and the mythology that blew up around her son’s death.

National networks came, national and regional newspapers posted correspondents in Laramie. Radio stations also joined in the fray.

“I just felt it was invasive and improper when we just wanted to spend time with him,” she said.

What Dennis and Judy saw must have been devastating. His aunt and uncle had earlier describe Matthew’s appearance to the press as as horrifying, with wounds concentrated on his head and face. The most severe blow was inflicted with a gun and probably caused irreparable brain damage, R.W. Eaton said. “He looks like hell,” Roxanne Rose said. “I can’t explain it. I don’t know how to explain it. He is hanging onto life by a thread.” Said Eaton: “It’s like something you might see in war.”

Doctors encouraged the family to bring familiar items to Matthew’s bed, in case he still had some lingering awareness. So they filled his room with sunflowers and the music of John Fogerty and Elton John. Judy wore the perfume he had given her for Christmas.

That same evening in Laramie, people gathered for candlelight vigil. The news bulletins and medical updates from Poudre Valley Hospital were grim.

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

Today In History: Two Men Arrested

Jim Burroway

October 8th, 2008

Ten years ago today, on October 8, 1998, Laramie, Wyoming police arrested Aaron James McKinney and Russell Arthur Henderson, both 21, and charged them with attempted murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery of Matthew Shepard.

McKinney’s and Henderson’s girlfriends, Chasity Vera Pasley, 20 and Kristen Leann Price, 18, were also arrested and charged with being accessories after the fact. Police said the women women helped McKinney and Henderson dump their bloody clothing.

Albany County Sheriff Gary Puls announced the arrests of Henderson, Pasley, and Price at 4:30 in the afternoon. McKinney was arrested later at 11:30 pm at Pudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he had been treated for a skull fracture that he suffered during a fight early in the morning on the day before.

Meanwhile, ten years ago today, Matthew Shepard is in a coma at that very same hospital, where he remains in critical condition.

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

Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”

Jim Burroway

October 7th, 2008

Ten years ago today at around 6:30 PM, Aaron Kreifels was riding his bicycle on Snowy Mountain View Road, just outside of Laramie, Wyoming, when he wiped out near the end of a rough buck-and-rail fence. In the fall, he severely damaged his front tire. Aaron got up to try to figure out how to get back into town when he was startled by what he thought was a scarecrow. He took a closer look and discovered that it wasn’t a scarecrow, but a 5-foot-2, 102 pound University of Wyoming student by the name of Matthew Shepard.

Aaron was further surprised to see that the bloody figure was still alive, though barely. Matthew was comatose, breathing “as if his lungs are full of blood,” Aaron would later testify. It had been a very cold day that day with a 30-degree freezing wind the night before, and it was now evening again. Matthew had been there for more than 18 hours, laying on his back, head propped against the fence, his legs outstretched. His hands were tied behind him, and the rope was tied to a fence post just four inches off the ground. His shoes were missing.

Aaron, in a state of panic, ran to the nearby home of Charles Dolan. From there, they called 911, and then the both of them returned to Matthew to wait for the sheriff’s deputy to arrive. Deputy Reggie Fluty later testified that the only spots not covered in blood on Matt’s brutally disfigured face were tracks cleansed by his tears. She told the barely breathing victim, “Baby, I’m so sorry this happened.”

Matthew was rushed to Poudre Valley Hospital’s intensive care unit in critical condition. He suffered fractures from the back of his head to the front of his right ear from being pistol-whipped by a 357-Magnum more than twenty times. He had severe brain stem damage which affected his body’s ability to control heart rate, breathing, temperature, and other involuntary functions. There were lacerations around his head, face and neck. He had welts on his back and arm, and bruised knees and groin. He had also suffered from hypothermia.

His injuries were too severe for doctors to operate. They did however insert a drain into Matthew’s skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.

By the end of ten years ago today, Matthew Shepard was laying quietly in a soft, warm bed with clean sheets after having spent eighteen hours in the freezing high plains of Wyoming tied to a fence post. He was breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

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

Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie

Jim Burroway

October 7th, 2008

Ten years ago today, police in Laramie, Wyoming were called to investigate a fight during the very early morning hours. The two young men had attacked two others who were vandalizing cars. One was hit so hard, his skull was fractured.

Everyone fled the scene when police arrived, but they found the pickup truck driven by one of the men. Inside, they saw evidence that suggested there was more going on than a simple street fight. According to Sgt. Flint Waters:

“I looked in the back of the truck and laying in the back of the truck was a large-frame revolver. The thing was huge, like an 8-inch barrel that had blood all over it. And there was some rope and a coat in the truck; there was I believe a shoe sitting in the front. … Seeing that the gun was covered in blood, I assumed that there was more going on than what we’d stumbled onto so far.”

Meanwhile, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence post, severely beaten and comatose. Police wouldn’t find him for another eighteen hours.

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

Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Jim Burroway

October 6th, 2008

Ten years ago today, the world had never heard of Matthew Shepard. That’s because up until ten years ago today, he was just another 21-year-old gay college student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Well, not just another college student. He showed great promise. He had attended two years of high school at the American School in Switzerland during the time his family moved temporarily to Saudi Arabia. He had a particular talent for learning languages and he had a special love for community theater. In college, he was active in the university’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Association, and he was chosen as a student representative to the Wyoming Environmental Council. Friends described him as easy, outgoing, and approachable, with a special gift of relating to almost everyone.

And yet, he really was just another college kid. His mother, Judy Shepard, says he was “just living his life as a 21-year-old college student who smoked too much, drank too much and didn’t study enough.”

But ten years ago today proved to be Matthew’s last full day as an ordinary college student.

Ten years ago today was a Tuesday, right in the middle of midterms at UW. Matthew had a French exam to study for, but he decided to wind up early that evening and go over to an LGBTA meeting. The main item on the agenda for the meeting was to put the final touches on plans for Gay Awareness Week, which was to be held on campus beginning on Sunday.

After the meeting ended, Matthew went back home. But then he decided to go out again to the Fireside Lounge. There, he met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who posed as visiting students from California.

Sometime after midnight, in the very early morning hours of ten years ago tomorrow, Matthew decided to take McKinney and Henderson up on an offer for a ride home.

And sometime after that, Matthew Shepard was no longer just an ordinary college student.

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

Happy Birthday, Evelyn Hooker

Gregory Herek

September 2nd, 2008

Today is the 101st anniversary of Dr. Evelyn Hooker’s birth.

Dr. Hooker, the psychologist widely credited with helping to establish that homosexuality is not inherently linked to mental illness, was born September 2, 1907, in North Platte, Nebraska. She was the sixth of nine children.

In the course of her remarkable life, Dr. Hooker surmounted many of the barriers faced by women who sought an academic career in the 20th century. She is best known for her psychological studies of gay men in the 1950s and 1960s.

By demonstrating that well-adjusted homosexuals not only existed but in fact were numerous, Dr. Hooker’s research demonstrated that the illness model had no scientific basis. She helped to lay the foundation for the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and for the American Psychological Association’s subsequent commitment to removing the stigma that has historically been attached to homosexuality.

In my latest post at Beyond Homophobia, I summarize Dr. Hooker’s most famous study and offer some reflections on the lasting impact of her work.

Today In History: A Bugger Was Hung

Jim Burroway

August 12th, 2008

“Buggery” — the quaint British legal term for homosexual activity — was a capital offense until 1861, when the laws were finally relaxed to allow for life imprisonment. But that change came almost thirty years too late for Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, who was hanged 175 years ago today for the “abominable vice.”

According to the London Courier:

Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, who was one of the unnatural gang to which the late Captain Beauclerk belonged, (and which latter gentleman put an end to his existence), was convicted on the clearest evidence at Croydon, on Saturday last, of the capital offence of Sodomy; the prisoner was perfectly calm and unmoved throughout the trial, and even when sentence of death was passed upon him. In performing the duty of passing sentence of death upon the prisoner, Mr. Justice Park told him that it would be inconsistent with that duty if he held out the slightest hope that the law would not be allowed to take its severest course. At 9 o’clock in the morning the sentence was carried into effect. The culprit, who was fifty years of age, was a fine looking man, and had served in the Peninsular war. He was connected with a highly respectable family; but, since his apprehension not a single member of it visited him.

[Hat tip: ExecutedToday.com (which proves that there is truly a blog for everything!) via Andrew Sullivan.]

Today In History: The APA Says No

Jim Burroway

July 17th, 2008

One of the top goals of the early gay rights movement was to get the American Psychological Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. As long as homosexuality remained listed, governmental agencies and private companies had all the excuse they needed to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

In 1957, Psychologist Evelyn Hooker began publishing the results of a series of tests which demonstrated that gays and lesbians who weren’t patients of mental health professionals were indistinguishable from heterosexuals. Before then, the mental health community thought that gays were mentally deficient because all of the prior research had only studied people who were confined to mental hospitals or were seen in clinical settings.

Despite the strength of this new evidence, it would still take many years for it to sink in. In fact, it was forty-five years ago today that the American Psychological Association declined to discuss the matter in a letter to leading gay rights activist Frank Kameny and the Mattachine Society, saying  “it is not in the best interests of the APA to meet with you, nor to publicize your meetings.”

Another ten years would pass before Kameny appeared on a panel of the APA’s symposium on homosexuality with Dr. John E. Fryer as “Dr. H. Anonymous.” That was  a key moment leading to the APA’s elimination of homosexuality as a mental illness. That was quite a turnaround from a mere ten years earlier when the APA refused to meet with them.

Frank Kameny’s papers are now a part of the Smithsonian Institution, and at 83, he’s still kicking butt and naming names from his home in Washington, D.C.

Lawrence vs. Texas Revisited

Jim Burroway

June 26th, 2008

Driver error led me to prematurely celebrate the five year anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling which struck down anti-sodomy laws across the nation. Dr. Gregory Herek apparently is in better control of his blogging software than I am of mine.

Dr. Herek is a prolific researcher and professor of psychology at U.C. Davis. Today he posted excerpts from a longer article he wrote to commemorate the ruling. In it, he explores the role that social science played in that ruling and what it tells us today in our current debates over same-sex marriage. He concludes:

Because current debates about law and policy concerning sexual orientation inevitably raise questions about the nature of intimate relationships, parenting, family dynamics, and the personal impact of sexual stigma – phenomena that have been extensively studied by behavioral and social scientists – psychologists and other behavioral scientists have an ongoing role to play in communicating our knowledge to policy makers, jurists, and the public.

By doing so, we will continue to fulfill our longstanding commitment to take the lead in removing the stigma historically attached to homosexuality and same-sex intimate relationships.

Like everything else Dr. Herek writes, this is well worth reading and bookmarking.

Today In History: The Rainbow Flag

Jim Burroway

June 25th, 2008

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the debut of the Rainbow Gay Pride flag. The original flag, hand-dyed by Gilbert Baker, first flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade on June 25, 1978. The original 1978 flag consisted of eight stripes, with each stripe assigned a specific meaning. From top to bottom, the stripes were:

  • Original Flaghot pink: sexuality
  • red: life
  • orange: healing
  • yellow: sunlight
  • green: nature
  • turquoise: magic
  • blue: serenity
  • violet: spirit

After Harvey Milk’s assassination on November 27, 1978, demand for the flag went up sharply. But since hot pink fabric wasn’t available as a stock color, the top stripe was removed and the flag became a seven stripe flag. Then, the story goes, organizers planned to hang rainbow flags vertically from lamp posts for San Francisco’s 1979 pride celebration and they noticed that the lamp post would obscure the middle stripe. So the turquoise stripe was dropped and the rainbow flag has remained a six-stripe flag ever since.

Rainbow FlagThe rainbow flag is now a world-wide symbol for LGBT communities everywhere, and it has come to mean many things to many different people. For some, it’s a gesture of visibility, a way of saying we’re here. For others, its a reminder of all that we’ve gone through as a community. And some in the LGBT community consider it a silly expression of separatism and self-segregation from society. Last October, Gilbert Baker penned an essay to explain what the flag meant to him. He describes growing up gay in Middle America and being harassed while serving in Viet Nam. He was sent stateside to work as a nurse in San Francisco, where he met Harvey Milk:

Stationed in San Francisco as a nurse, I cared for the wounded. I also met my closet [sic] friend and mentor, Harvey Milk. Harvey had an aggressive charm that attracted the wicked and the wise. His charisma and fearlessness are at the heart of all I hold dear.

Harvey was a pioneer, a trailblazer, and with the community by his side, he became a San Francisco Supervisor. One day he said to me that we needed a logo, a symbol. We needed a positive image that could unite us. I sewed my own dresses, so why not a flag? At Harvey’s behest, I went about creating our Rainbow Flag. I had never felt so empowered, so free.

My liberation came at a painful cost. In the ultimate act of anti-gay violence, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated. The bullets were meant for Harvey, to silence him, and, by extension, every one of us. Uniting a community cost him his life.

I remember when I was still coming out how important it was for me to see it and know that it marked a place of safety and refuge. And even now, when I go to a strange town and I see a small sticker on a doorway or a car’s bumper, I know that I’m among friends.

This Week In History: Lawrence vs. Texas

Jim Burroway

June 23rd, 2008

It’s been only five years since the United States Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws with its 6-3 ruling in Lawrence vs. Texas. Writing for the majority, Anthony Kennedy said, “the intimate, adult consensual conduct at issue here was part of the liberty protected by the substantive component of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process protections.” Sandra Day O’Connor wrote a separate concurring opinion, but she based her arguments on equal protection instead of due process. Dissenting were Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and Clarence Thomas.

Update: The actual date when the decision was released was June 26, 2003. When I wrote this, I meant to post date it so it wouldn’t show up until Thursday, which is the actual anniversary. I typically write these history things several days in advance. But given that this is a Monday and all, well … TA-DAH!

This Month In History: A Book Review

Jim Burroway

June 20th, 2008

As I was doing some leisurely digging in the university library a few weeks ago, I came across this familiar book review. It appeared fifty years ago this month, in the June 1958 issue of The Mattachine Review. Enjoy!

The Talented Mr. RipleyDIRT TAKES A SWEEP THROUGH ITALY
THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, by Patricia Highsmith. New York: Coward-McCann, 1955. Reviewed by H. E. P.

How he started on his career is not made at all clear, but when we first meet Tom Ripley he is already a successful extortionist, and before long we see the list of his accomplishments grow and expand to include a remarkably long string of murders. Although at the very beginning the hero (?) himself vehemently denies that he is a homosexual, subsequent events more than suggest that he is not being entirely candid and honest with us, and presently we find him in a typical New York East Side gay bar. Here he meets the father on one of his erstwhile acquaintances and is sent by him to Europe with the ostensible object of bringing the son back to the United States. It is in the course of a leisurely Italian tour — Sorrento, San Remo, Naples, Rome, and places too numerous to mention — that Tom’s character unfolds slowly — perhaps too slowly for some readers. While it soon becomes apparent that Tom is one of the most despicable heels in contemporary literature, the author does manage to elicit from the reader a measure of sympathy for her “hero” — not an easy task by any manner of means. In the process of following Tom’s adventures we meet a series of straightforward and susceptible homosexuals who invariably fall into his wiles, with the possible exception of Dickie Greenleaf, a homosexual with a girl friend — and here some readers will probably feel that the girl friend incident would be more believable were the sex changed. At any rate, the plot thickens, murder mounts upon murder, a case of assumed identity, and the novel comes to a swift end. It would not be fair to reveal the ending, but let us just say that it is not a conventional one at all, though possibly true to life, and that the reader is sure to react strongly to it, either in delight or revulsion.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” may not be as well written nor as full of suspense as the author’s other novel on the subject of the homosexual and his troubles, “Strangers on a Train,” but this reviewer was unable to lay it down until the last word had been read, and was left wishing for an Alfred Hitchcock to turn his talents to a dramatization of what is a most unusual suspense novel.

The Talented Mr. RipleyAlfred Hitchcock never made the movie, but Anthony Minghella did in 1999. Starring Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf, and Gwyneth Paltrow as “girlfriend” (Marge Sherwood), it was nominated for five Academy Awards. They made a few changes for the movie — Ripley meets Greanleaf’s father at a party instead of a gay bar — but the story is essentially the same, leaving viewers in a state of delight or revulsion, depending.

Newer Posts | Older Posts