Friday, February 15, 2013

Speak up. Reach out.

By: Gypsy Pantoja

A couple of weeks ago in Seguin, the cold crisp air held the spirit of hope and love; it held the spirit of Matthew Shepard. 

Outside, the Texas Lutheran University campus was peacefully quiet.

Inside, Jackson Auditorium was abuzz with energy as living spirits arrived to attend a very special event.

Judy Shepard, mother, wife, educator, advocate and ally was invited by the Brown Endowment to speak about her son Matthew, the impact of his death, and her reluctant yet eventual role as champion for gay and civil rights.  She was inspiring, funny, direct and emotional as she laid bare her heart before a full house.

Carlos Pantoja
Her presence was at once passionate and powerful.  As she shared the victim’s impact statement she read at the sentencing of the young men who had pleaded guilty to murdering her son. She recalled the moment Matthew died, she thought; Matthew is no longer in pain. I recalled having the same thought when my brother Carlos passed away in 1996 from complications due to HIV-AIDS.

Their deaths, although distinct, share a common thread.  Matthew and Carlos were gay. Their lives were difficult, hiding their sexuality and living a lie, as Mrs. Shepard reiterated throughout her speech. Not so much living a lie, I thought, as much as living in fear, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of persecution, and the ever-present disregard for their basic humanity.  Judy Shepard touched upon these fears; and like my own mother, revealed that she always knew her son was gay. It is a “mom thing…” she said. At 18, Matthew admitted he was gay, and she asked, “What took you so long to tell me?” Then the composed mother revealed her heartache; an unrelenting question loomed, “Didn’t he trust us enough to tell us?” I suspect he did, but I also suspect the answer was… Fear. Rejection. Abandonment. Persecution. The outright disregard for his basic humanity.  Having witnessed others rejected, abandoned and persecuted by a vicious and raging society and still others by their own families and friends, why would gay men and women feel safe to acknowledge their sexuality? Would you?

I speak from an outsider’s point of view; I am straight. But I can only imagine the courage it takes to acknowledge your sexuality and then the courage to live with the outcome whether good or bad.

Like Judy Shepard, the looming question in my mind; how do we, advocates and allies, embolden the LGBT community to trust us enough to safely acknowledge their sexuality without the fear of rejection, abandonment and persecution? Perhaps our own fears prevent us from having the courage to speak up and reach out to the LGBT community; to reassure them they are safe to reach out to us and can trust us to speak up for them when no one else will.
Gay and civil rights are human rights. Speak up. Reach out.
   …and then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
                           -Pastor Martin Niemöller

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