Matthew Shepard died ten years ago Sunday, October 12th, but one dead among thousands. I've heard people say that the reaction to his death was so strong because he was young, blonde, and cute. Maybe, but 30 years ago, a young man from Staten Island who was every bit as young, blonde, and cute as Matthew Shepard ended up dead on the West Side docks with his throat cut from ear to ear and the word "faggot" carved in his chest. No one, outside a handful of activists, even noticed or made a peep of protest. If Matthew Shepard's death means anything, then it's because people finally noticed the violence and brutality that has always been in their midst.
The word “martyr” has become very inflated currency lately. Nihilistic religious fanatics, who indiscriminately kill everyone around them and themselves, use the word to justify acts of mass murder and suicide. Certain angry bishops who’ve announced for years their intention to quit their church, and find themselves fired, claim to have been “martyred.” Bullies who get called out by the bullied, tend to think of themselves as “martyrs.”
Our martyrs never sought their fate. They wanted to be anything but victims, and to lead long and happy lives like everyone else. They weren’t any more saintly than anyone else. Their ambitions in life were largely modest ones, not to rule the world, but to survive and make a happy life in it. Martyrdom was thrust upon them. Martyrdom found them in parking lots, back alleys, basements, bars, hiking trails, parks, streets, highways, hotels, hospitals, prisons, classrooms, and at home. And when it came, it was never welcome. A lot of ours have walked that Via Dolorosa all the way to the end. Fear, humiliation, suffering, and death were anything but metaphorical for them. For our martyrs those things were all too literally real.
And certainly, those legions who died of AIDS, especially in the early years where the agony of death was compounded by neglect and maltreatment, deserve a place in our company of martyrs.
LGBT folk have far too many martyrs. Violence is a reality that every LGBT person regardless of race, class, or gender has to live with daily. The constant threat of violence shapes our decisions large and small; whether or not to wear a certain piece of clothing, walk down a certain street, or to live in a certain city or state or country.
Below is a very small sample of the thousands carried off by violence:
(no picture available, above is his memorial in Bangor, Maine) -- 1984
Erwin Schimitzek, a store clerk from Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland), arrested for homosexuality, and sent to Auschwitz where he died. He is one of the unknown thousands of LGBTs murdered by the Nazis
(no picture available, above is a drawing by Rene Boyvin) -- 1661
Since the transgendered are the most visible and least assimilated group in our community, and since their very existence challenges traditional gender concepts, they are the most frequent targets of homophobic violence. Here
is a website devoted exclusively to remembering the transgendered dead.
+Grant to the departed eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of all the departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
I say it’s time to close this Book of Martyrs. Our Fellowship of the Martyrs should have no more new members.
NO MORE! NEVER AGAIN!