Michael Aaron

Sheparding in Change

Ten years ago this date (I’m writing this on Tuesday, Oct. 7, of course, since this is the absolute last moment possible to do so), I was sitting in my San Francisco Jackson Square office trying to get some project or another done so I could head out the door and catch the BART home. I had a gaggle of Yahoo news alerts set on my computer and one, “Gay Wyoming,” suddenly braaannnged.

“GAY STUDENT IN WYOMING ­ATTACKED, LEFT TO DIE.”

A chill started at the base of my spine and traveled up to my scalp, just as it is doing as I type this ten years later. Involuntarily, my eyelids started to brim, just as they are doing as I type this ten years later.

I spent the next several hours at the keyboard searching for more information. It was sparse, seemingly coming from the same AP article. I searched the San Francisco Anti-Violence Project Web site for more information. Nothing. I called their number in hopes that a recording might have more info. No.

I called some friends in Salt Lake to see if they had heard and, yes, the word had spread like wildfire.
Days went by and I felt powerless. I seriously considered driving out there, but decided that there wouldn’t be anything for me to do. The lack of response in San Francisco was frustrating, maddening. It was days before any kind of response came out of San Francisco, and it took the form of a candlelight vigil on the wall of the Bank of America building on Castro Street. Nothing organized, just a bunch of candles, bears, flowers and notes and people taking vigil outside. San Franciscans love their candlelight vigils.

It made me realize how out-of-touch with the rest of the country San Francisco was. That no organization saw fit to release a statement or organize an event that could help people channel their anger/sadness/sense of helplessness underscored a problem I had living in the city. The leaders and the city residents look only in the city limits, never outward. And they are so busy fighting among themselves over totally frivolous things like allowing Budweiser to sponsor the parade or adding a 23rd letter to the LGBTQRSP alphabet soup that they lose sight of what is important to those outside Camelot.

I wanted to go back home to Salt Lake. I missed the true fight — the fight for things that matter. The fight of middle gay America.

I felt I had sold out my values in the name of big bucks.

I talked to my then-partner. We still had the house in Salt Lake. There was a new center with a coffee shop a few blocks from the house. I needed to get involved in something again for my sense of self worth.

He loved the idea and started job hunting.

My boss called and I was trying to figure out how to tell him I wanted to be transferred back to Salt Lake. He was pussy-footing around trying to ask me to come back to Salt Lake. I let him offer me a big raise to come back. Hey … who says you can’t do good things AND make big bucks?
Many people have similar stories — that the Matthew Shepard murder changed their life in some large way. His name has come up several times in conversation about why people are involved in their projects.

There are worse legacies to have.

I’m sure that Russell Henderson nor Aaron McKinney knew that when they pistol whipped Shepard to death that they would cause such a huge change in the American fabric. I doubt that, as they sit in their cells today, they understand what change they have made.

I’m sure Matthew himself never dreamed that he would make such a difference in the world.
As we sit here ten years later, we in Salt Lake are reading about the fourth gay man who has been assaulted while the attackers blurt anti-gay epithets at them. These apparent hate crimes are not nearly as egregious as Matthew’s, but do we wait for another murder before we work towards a hate-free world? Q

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