Mike's Report of the Vigil in Lawrence, KS

Like most people, I was shocked and horrified by the terrible beating and murder of Matthew Shepard. The violence and hate in this attack really struck home. The thought "it could have easily been me" kept coming to mind.

Shepard's murder was the end of a depressing summer: a resurgent right-wing touting hateful anti-gay ads, leading politicians comparing us to criminals, Kansas' sodomy law being upheld, the Supreme Court letting stand a noxious anti-gay law in Cincinnati, and finally the rising tide of nationwide violence culminating in Matthew Shepard's death. It seemed that words do indeed have consequences.

Shepard died Monday October 12, and I spent the next day in real despair. This young man, who could have been any of us, who could have been in Lawrence, who could have been me, was dead. Over the next couple of days, many members of the Lawrence community who felt this same way decided to hold a candlelight vigil to honor the memory of Matthew Shepard, Richard Jasper, and all the other victims of hate. The next couple days were a flurry of organizing and planning. It felt better, at least, to be doing something, and that maybe a positive event could come out of this tragedy.

The result was a beautiful and hopeful stand against hate by the entire Lawrence community. Friday evening, October 16th turned out to be windy and wet. I was worried that the inclement weather would keep people away. I was wrong, and there was an outpouring of support such that Lawrence has rarely seen. By 7:00, over 300 people had gathered in front of City Hall; individuals, couples, friends, and families, umbrellas and candles in hand. Commemorative buttons honoring Shepard were pinned on almost everyone's clothes.

Over a dozen people from the community spoke out against hate. Representatives of the African American community, the Native American community, the queer community, the Asian community, the Jewish community, indeed the entire HUMAN community took turns at the megaphone. Hundreds of people stood, candles in hand, in the rain, listening. After a moment of silence in honor of the victims of hate, the audience was invited to speak, and several people did so. One woman, a proud lesbian mom, stated that "we will will not go back in the closets, we are going to live proudly and openly. Say no to fear, say no to hate!"

After the end of the planned portion of the vigil, most of the crowd spontaneously decided to march down Massachusetts Street. Candles in hand, the crowd walked from one end of downtown to the other, chanting "Two, four six, eight, no more violence, no more hate!" It was such a hopeful and inspiring experience, it is almost impossible to put it into words.

As the crowd slowly broke up after the march and small groups of us stood embracing one another and chatting, I was thinking that at least some good has come out of the horror of Matthew's murder. Indeed, hundreds of vigils just like the one in Lawrence have been held all over America, as people come together to remember, to mourn, and to take a stand. It is time to turn the tide in this country now.

As the famous quote by Mother Jones goes: "Remember the dead, and fight like hell for the living." It is now time to fight against hate...and for love.

Mike's homepages, Turn Left and TurnOUT are very interesting, in terms of liberal and gay issues, respectively. I wish I had the time and energy he did to chronicle all the stuff he compiles.

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Copyright (c) 1998, Seth J. Bookey, New York, NY 10021, sethbook@panix.com