Have you ever heard the name Matthew Sheppard? His is a non-descript name; it doesn't tell you very much about this man, who he was, what he did, or what kind of life he had. Perhaps, though, I'll tell you what I know about this name, because I feel it is important you know that he died a few weeks ago. What do you care about this man's death? The fact is, you should care, because he died for being homosexual-a gay, queer, fag, and all those lovely names that people use to classify other people. You should care because the people who killed him are young, they attend university, they could be anybody you or I know; they are students. You should care because this is not an isolated incident in a modern, liberal-thinking world.
It is time people realize that things like the brutal killing of Sheppard still happen. We are university students, and we are supposed to be bastions for freedom of thought, speech and expression. We are supposed to be tolerant of a person's gender, race and sexual orientation. So why did four University of Wyoming students pretend to be gay to entice Sheppard into their van? Why did they beat him virtually to death with the butt of a gun, smash his skull, and leave him in the desert in freezing conditions until somebody found him 18 hours later? This man is dead because some kids thought it would be okay to beat a man to death based on his sexual practices and thought they could get away with a terrible crime because he was gay.
There is a defense in the United States that allows killers of gay men and women to plead 'homosexual paranoia.' What this defense essentially allows is a 'straight' man or woman to kill a gay man or lesbian because s/he was disgusted and distraught when somebody of the same sex came on to him or her. This defense gives Americans the right to kill a fellow human being because they were unable to control their fear and loathing. If this were truly the case, I wonder why more politicians aren't killed on a daily basis. The worst thing about this defense is that it is an accepted and proven tactic that works to protect murderers from the punishment they deserve. Murder is murder. There is no grey area. Shepard's killers are apparently pleading this pathetic excuse.
Attending university does not give us the right to be ignorant and apathetic. Too often students are so wrapped up in their own little bubble worlds that they fail to recognize the events that are happening around them, events that potentially affect them. Shepard's death should remind us all that we have an innate responsibility to promote awareness and tolerance. By doing nothing we merely encourage the problem. We must realize that all too often people are killed for who they are and what they believe. People are murdered by dictators for practicing simple freedom of will, thought and expression. People are murdered by the ignorant for what is perceived to be a perversion of nature or morality. Hitler not only killed millions of Jews, Poles, Gypsies, and prisoners of war, but also gays and lesbians: their mark at the concentration camps was a pink triangle for gay men and a black triangle for lesbians.
We are lucky that we're not persecuted for who we are, so why should other people be persecuted for who they are?
I hope Shepard's death is not in vain; perhaps his death will make people aware of the terrible things that occur in our society. If one person reads this and walks away with a more positive perspective on gays and lesbians, then this article was worth writing. Guess what, dear reader... gays and lesbians are people too, just like you and me. And this applies not only to homosexuals but people of other races as well. The man from Nigeria is as human as the woman from China who is as human as the Yanomawa girl who are all as human as you are human. Ignorance and apathy promote homophobia, racism and sexism. By making yourself more aware, perhaps you can also realize what this world involves and, maybe, how you can improve it. Matthew Sheppard was killed because of his sexual orientation. Let us hope that he will be the last to die of intolerance and ignorance.