Thoughts at a vigil for Matthew Shepard

Thoughts at a vigil for Matthew Shepard

By Rick Rosendall
President
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC

October 14, 1998

[The following was written just prior to a candlelight vigil at the U.S. Capitol for the late Matthew Shepard, who was brutally murdered in Wyoming for being gay. Rosendall did not speak at this event, though he and fellow GLAA member Franklin Kameny did speak at a smaller vigil for Shepard on Monday evening, October 12 at the Capitol Reflecting Pool.]

I am thinking tonight of a little child that I know. His name is Joshua. He is four years old, and he lives in Jackson, Mississippi. He is beautiful, bright, inquisitive, confident, and outgoing. He also happens to be the great, great, great grandchild of a slave. I know Joshua because he and I both love the same person -- his uncle Robert.

When I hear this wonderful child at play, I remember a line by Paul Laurence Dunbar: "Little brown baby wif sparklin' eyes" -- and I wonder what kind of America Joshua and his children will grow up in.

The answer to that question is up to us who are gathered here and in similar vigils all across this country. Will we work together to build an America with freedom and justice and dignity for all -- or will we allow America to be controlled by those who would make it a place of hatred and intolerance and rigid orthodoxy?

I am glad that Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson said in response to the murder of Matthew Shepard, "There is no room in the Party of Lincoln for hate." But I wish Mr. Nicholson would tell that to his colleagues who made a mass pilgrimage last month to the Christian Coalition's Road to Victory conference. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, for example, made it clear he wants to reclaim America for Christ. He favors cutting government programs right and left, but he thinks it's just fine for the government to impose one group's religious beliefs on everyone else.

Make no mistake: bigotry knows no party. The President who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Democratic Congress that gave us "Don't Ask/Don't Tell," have much to answer for. But the leadership of one major party is in the thrall of the Radical Religious Right. I applaud the efforts of Log Cabin Republicans to fight the right from inside the GOP, but they have a daunting task. My own city of Washington is under assault from this congress as never before -- and the targets are orphans, and people at risk for AIDS, and all of our families.

The Radical Right's idea of religion excludes most believers. Their idea of family excludes most real families. And their idea of liberty excludes everyone who doesn't look like them and believe like them. What kind of America is that? The truth is that they are the ones who are perverting religion, family, and politics.

Let us push for hate crimes legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal of the sodomy laws that still make us criminals in 18 states, and an end to the statewide initiatives that amount to referenda on our right to exist. But we cannot win these fights unless we challenge the forces of the Radical Right wherever they go. One of the places they go in great numbers is the voting booth.

Please. Don't stay home on November 3rd. Don't let your friends or your family stay home. Don't be politically invisible. We must vote as if our lives and the lives of our children depend upon it. Little Joshua already has great dreams for his future, just as Matthew Shepard did. We already have too many martyrs -- let's not permit any more. I want Joshua to grow up in a country where whoever he loves, whoever he smiles at across a room, it will be okay. And I want that country to be ours. You and I can make it happen, one day and one battle at a time. To quote John Lewis, walk with the wind.

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