I remember reading my copy of Gay Times about the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. At the time I ended up in tears, and this evening re-reading about the murder, looking at photographs of those responsible as well as of that infamous fence in the State of Wyoming and the well known family photo of Matthew. The Matthew Shepard Foundation posted the following status on Facebook, and I feel that we should spread it wider.
“15 years ago this evening, Matthew Shepard was driven from the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming to the outskirts of the city by two strangers who did not like that he was gay. They tied him to a fence, beat him with the butt of a gun, and left him for dead.
“The Casper Star Tribune, Matthew’s hometown newspaper, ran a beautiful story of the contradictions Wyoming still has in the acceptance and treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“These contradictions parallel those at the national and international level as well. Just because same-sex couples can get married in 13 states and the District of Columbia doesn’t mean that these couples don’t have to think about their rights when they go on vacation. Or get transferred for work and move to one of the 29 states in which you can be fired for being gay, 33 for being transgender.
“While progress has been made over the last 15 years, we have a long way to go before we have true, meaningful equality.”
— Matthew Shepard Foundation Facebook page
So much achieved, yet so much still to do
So much has been achieved for gay rights across the world in the years since Matthew’s cruel death, but we have still so much to do. Fifteen years on, the same homophobia seen in Wyoming in 1998 is very much alive and well here in Northern Ireland.
- A man had his nose broken nose during a homophobic assault on the Dublin to Belfast train between Newry and Portadown in December 2012. (Belfast Telegraph)
- Henry McDonald wrote in the Guardian that the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland found in some research that 80% of homophobic attacks here in Northern Ireland are not reported.
- Thug jailed for homophobic attack in Belfast gay bar reported in the Belfast Telegraph in June 2013
- In September three men admitted the manslaughter of Andrew Lorimer in Lurgan in what is a suspected homophobic attack.
- A drug addict took a legal high before he attacked a man and shouted homophobic abuse at him, a court heard in July 2013. (BBC News)
The cases illustrated above are those which have made it into a quick search on Google. I am sure that there have been many more homophobic incidents since this time last year. As the Police Service of Northern Ireland has said in the past,
“Hate crime is unacceptable, no one deserves to experience it and no one deserves to get away with it. To stop it, report it, do not suffer in silence.”
It is clear to me that we must continue to stand up for our rights, not just against homophobic attacks but the anti-gay policies of the DUP health minister, Edwin Poots, who seems to be leading a new crusade against our rights in his relentless appeals against decisions of the Northern Irish Courts relating to the Gay Blood Ban, and Adoption by Gay Couples.
Anyone interested in working towards full equality for all who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, please get in touch and help stand alongside our brothers and sisters in the Matthew Shepard Foundation working to ‘Erase Hate’ now.