One gay student explains, ‘. . . growing up gay in my family is like being Jewish in a Nazi home.’” Robert E. Owens, Jr. The Challenges and Promise for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth, available from Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.
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October marks two major anniversaries. This is the 10th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder, and the 40th anniversary of the founding of the largely queer church denomination, the Metropolitan Community Churches.
Matthew Shepard: A Decade Later
Ten years ago, Matthew Shepard was murdered. A decade has passed since Matthew was killed in a hate crime. The anniversary of Matthew’s death, is a good time to grieve, to celebrate Matthew’s life, and reflect on the current state of gay rights.
Ten years have passed since Matthew Shepard was alive. The world lost his bouncing walk, the smile that people describe as smiling with his entire body. More importantly than the physical traits, the world lost a caring, articulate, sensitive young man, who was passionate about human rights and politics. As a society, we stop for a few moments, and we remember Matthew Shepard and the many other people who died as a result of hatred against identifiable groups.
Matthew Shepard casts a long shadow across the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified landscape of human rights. Something about the image of a young college student tied to a fence, clinging to life caught people’s attention. Matthew Shepard’s name became known internationally in the queer community. The outpouring of grief from people who never knew Matthew was impressive. Numerous memorial web sites started after his death. Groups dedicated to ending hate sprang up in the months after Matthew’s murder.
Stop Hate 2000 was one of the groups that formed as a result of Matthew Shepard’s murder. A few people touched by Matthew’s life and death felt compelled to make a difference, to reduce hatred in its many forms, including hate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, gender expression, gender, social class, and religion. So Stop Hate 2000 was formed. The anniversary of his murder puts us in touch with our roots, and with the importance of the work we are doing.
Because people identified so strongly with Matthew Shepard, his life and death made an impact on queer rights. There was an increase in discussions about the need to protect queer people in hate crimes legislation after Matthew Shepard’s murder. One proposed United States hate crimes bill was known as the Matthew Shepard Act. For several years, same-sex marriage has been a very hot topic in American political circles. Currently, there is an attempt in California to restrict the right of same-sex marriages. Gay marriage was not in the public attention before Matthew Shepard’s murder.
In Canada, hate crimes protection was extended to gay people as an indirect result of Matthew Shepard’s murder. A protest at Matthew Shepard’s funeral helped create a political will to include gay people in existing hate crimes protection. Canadian same-sex couples have the right to get married. Many American same-sex couples came to Canada to get married, even though their same-sex marriages were not well recognized in the United States.
Unfortunately, the picture in the United States is not quite as good as it is in Canada. Judy Shepard and the Matthew Shepard Foundation continue to take a very active role in lobbying for hate crimes protection, and for gay rights. To the Shepard family, who have fought very hard for queer rights, the last ten years might not have felt productive. America is still struggling with the same issues ten years after Matthew was murdered. Federal legislation for hate crimes protection needs to be enacted, and the right of marriage needs to be extended to same-sex couples.
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Metropolitan Community Churches
Many people do not know the role of churches in the fight for human rights. Black churches were a very powerful force in the American civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the only pastor struggling for civil rights for America’s Black population. Many leaders in the civil rights movement were pastors.
Churches and pastors also held leadership roles in the gay and lesbian, and the trans rights movement. Some of the rights gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people enjoy are due, in part, to the hard work of Christian churches. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the queer church denomination, the Metropolitan Community Churches. The MCC is the largest gay organization in the world. According to the MCC denominational web site, the MCC has 43,0000 members, in about 300 congregations, and operates in 22 countries. The MCC is the world’s largest gay organization.
The Metropolitan Community Churches started to meet the spiritual needs of gay people. The church started in Troy Perry’s home. Troy Perry’s church started about one year before the landmark Stonewall riots. Shortly after the MCC started, in 1968, the MCC was pioneering queer rights. In 1969, long before same-sex marriage was on anybody’s radar, Troy Perry performed the first same-sex marriage in the United States. In 1970, Troy Perry sued the state of California for the right to same-sex marriages. Unfortunately, he lost. Troy Perry is not a man who easily gives up. In 2003, he sued the California government for recognition of his Canadian same-sex marriage. He won, and that is what put gay marriage on the political agenda for the 2008 elections.
Over the years, MCC congregations experienced prejudice, discrimination, vandalism, arson, and anger. The MCC persevered through many challenges. Metropolitan Community Churches remain committed to lobbying for the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people.
Information about the MCC can be found on the church denomination’s web site. People interested in learning about the history of the MCC can do so on the web site In Our Own Words.
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October’s anniversaries remind us that progress toward human rights, progress in conquering irrational fear and hatred is being made. Progress is not fast, because hearts and minds are changed one person at a time, but progress is being made. Those who remain life-long activists are able to see progress. They can see victories won.
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A few of many news stories related to same-sex marriages in California appear below:
- Gay rights activists are boycotting the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, after the owner donated $125,000 to a campaign to end California same-sex marriages.
article - “Hundreds of gay couples enjoy ‘dream come true’ in Calif.” The USA Today article says the Williams Institute at UCLA estimates over half of California’s 102 thousand same-sex couples will get married in the next three years.
video - Ellen DeGeneres announces plans to get married, because the same-sex marriage ban in California was removed.
•Human Rights Campaign
article informs us the California Supreme Court declined to remove a marriage initiative designed to take away the right of same-sex couples to get married. The marriage initiative is on the November ballot.
•The Human Rights Campaign
is collecting signatures of people supporting same-sex marriage rights in the United States. To date, they have collected over 1 million signatures. You can sign an online petition by clicking here
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