Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An open letter to an old friend


It's been 13 years since I last saw you. Well, 13 years and 5 days to be exact. Since that night. A part of me will always wonder - if I had said or done something differently, would things have turned out differently? I try not to dwell on that thought, as it only serves to tear open old wounds. I think about you so often, though - pretty much every day. Sometimes I hear a song, or look at a picture, or notice a post on Facebook from a mutual friend. It'd be a lie if I said it didn't still hurt. I was just getting to know you - and it wasn't enough.

But then I try to focus on all the good that has come about since your murder. You wouldn't recognize campus these days. First, we have a Rainbow Resource Center. And two GLBTQ student groups. The Federal hate crimes law was finally passed - with your name on it.

I try to focus on the people who have come into my life because of you. I get to see your parents and brother this weekend at the Bear dinner. They have been amazing, and continue to inspire me. Many documentarians have become friends - or family. How cool are your friends from Switzerland?! I've traveled around the country speaking at colleges, universities, and high schools. Not nearly as many as your mom has, but I know it makes a difference.

I've met many folks who are part of a production of The Laramie Project - students, directors, set designers. They all agree on something - your story and the play have touched their lives. They think about people differently. They're called to be more involved. All because of someone they never met. That has such power for them...and that's a big part of what keeps me going.

I'm tired, Matt. I'm tired of having to keep speaking, of having to keep telling people the FACTS, not the garbage put out by 20/20. Just two nights ago I was over at a friend's house, and met someone who claims she was your "bestie." She didn't seem old enough, but I didn't call her out on it - I was a guest in my friend's house, and didn't want to be rude. She started talking about how it was really about drugs. And about how your mom has made "so much money" off of you. That was just too far, and I sure as hell spoke up about then. And I always will.

No matter how tired I get of speaking out, I always will. I will go wherever someone sends for me. I will repeat myself endlessly, reviewing the facts and truth - trying to counter the myths and inaccuracies whenever I can. I'll do it because it's the right thing to do. It's a way I can continue to make a difference. And I'll do it because I promised you I would.

Because you continue to inspire me. To look at everyone as a person first. To get involved and make a difference. To appreciate the time I have with loved ones, as it is finite. Because my life is better having known you. You STILL give me wings.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Oh, that's tacky....that's REALLY tacky...

Recently bills have been introduced to the Wyoming legislature that would prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions performed in other states. Obviously, this doesn't sit well with yours truly. Jesse and I have planned to get married on paper again in a state where it's legal. We don't know how much protection it would offer us, but we know how many rights and privileges are on the line, and we're willing to roll the dice.

During the debates, the usual rhetoric showed up as expected: we're protecting traditional marriage, Bible blah blah blah, it's a sacrament, Adam and Eve, etc. At one point, claims were also made that the bill was really about protecting Wyoming's children, because kids do best when there's a mommy and a daddy. Everyone knows that, right? Except the mountain of scientific studies that show it's about caring, involved parents, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. And if this was really about "protecting kids," why didn't the bill try to outlaw divorce? Or require that couples be fertile before they get married? Would a tubal ligation then act as an annulment?

I'm still holding out faith that reason and sanity will set in before it's too late, and that the bill will be stricken down before it ever comes up to a public vote. But that's not all that has frustrated me about the debates. Usually, I have little reason to get snarky with activists who are trying to prevent a bad law from being passed. But a few emails went out from folks in Wyoming Equality that have me seething at both sides.

I got an official message directing folks to contact their Representatives about the bill and urge them to vote no. Pretty standard stuff, right? Except for these words: "You don't have to mention that you are GLBT. In fact it may help if you don't." The first part is quite true...nobody should feel compelled to come out; straight people have as much reason to be cheezed about these horrid bills as the rainbow crowd. But HOW DARE anyone suggest that I should go back in the closet?! HOW DARE the statewide GLBTQ group advise people, albeit in "soft language," that they should be less than proud of or honest about their lives? Shouldn't the legislators also be told that there ARE GLBT people living in Wyoming? In their districts? That we're concerned and involved in the political process like our straight neighbors? SHAME.

The irony was not lost on me when, just three days later, another message praised everyone for their efforts. It raved about the impact that personal stories had in changing some votes, though not enough. It mentioned that several Reps received "not just one, but dozens of emails this weekend from GLBT people for the first time in their life." Well, I guess it's a good thing that not everyone followed the advice you sent out earlier then, isn't it? Had everyone stayed in the closet, our lawmakers might not have gotten the message that we are here and are paying attention. That they represent us too, not just the straight white conservative religious types.

And then it got even worse. The next line was, I REALLY hope, intended as a joke: "In fact, the Catholic households were so shocked, they had to haul their computers to church to get them blessed with Holy Water." Are you fucking kidding me?! Way to reinforce stigma and stereotype that religion and gays don't mix. It's not just the Catholics voting for these bills, and there are plenty of pissed off Catholics fighting against them. So why single out a religion this way, possibly alienating some who were supportive...or thinking about being so?

I get why you might try to slip in a funny bit - something to lighten the mood and keep people's spirits up. But this just wasn't funny. It was divisive, rude, and insensitive. In sending messages to remind people we're supposed to be the Equality State, they managed show just how intolerant the GLBTQ community can still be. Rather than trying to bridge gaps, they quipped about them. Don't get me wrong...I'm not afraid of using humor to my advantage, but it's about common sense. Considering the time and place...the audience. The purpose. If you're trying to rally people to your cause, don't start by joking that every Catholic out there is scared to get an email from a homo and that they have to start praying.

I will give credit where it's due, though. The messages contained logical, effective talking points. They mobilized quickly to inform folks, get out the names of folks to call, and ways to get involved. I just happen to think they gave slap in the face to many GLBTQ and spiritual folks out there in the process. I'd like to believe that we're better than that, or we're going to have to put an asterisk on the rainbow flag here in Wyoming too.