Emory Report

October 26, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 9

First person:

After brutal murder, Corry finds 'no peace without justice'

I just returned from a candlelight vigil held in the memory of Matthew Shepard. If you somehow don't know, Matthew Shepard was a gay college student in Laramie, Wy., who was abducted, savagely beaten, tied to a wooden fence like a scarecrow and left to die. His murderers gave the excuse that he flirted with them. He was 21 years old, 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 105 pounds.

The vigil drew at least 200 people from Emory and the Atlanta community. There were several heartfelt prayers. A childhood friend of Matthew's spoke of their time together. There were more prayers and a song. Two local television stations covered the vigil for their evening newscasts.

I am completely unsatisfied.

Praying, holding hands and singing a song provides no justice and does nothing to prevent more hate-inspired murders or gay bashing.

What can we do?

We can hope that the criminal justice system will work. That Matthew Shephard's murderers will receive the type of punishment that will make them see the blood on their hands for what it is. If the justice system fails, I hope the white-hot, furious justice of the Goddess finds them.

We can work to get hate crimes legislation passed into law by each of the states and the federal government. There are hate crimes bills pending in Congress and most of the states that don't have laws already, including Wyoming and Georgia. Perhaps these laws may prevent some future deaths-at the least they can aid the criminal justice system in bringing about appropriate punishments.

We can also work to change our culture so that violence against those different from ourselves would never be considered. Changing our culture is truly the only way to prevent murders and bashings. Matthew Shepard's murderers were not born with violent hatred of homosexuals; they learned it growing up in Wyoming/American culture. How can we change the culture? Can we change the culture? I don't know. I try to teach and lead by example. But I am frustrated by my inability to see how I change the world and, in fact, if I do.

Until the world becomes a better place, I suggest we take as many self-defense and martial arts courses as possible. Remember, this was just one of the many hate-inspired murders in this country this year, and there were many more violent attacks that people survived.

Matthew Shepard's friend Walter Boulden's words at the Wyoming vigil ring out to me:

Matt's sense of safety was betrayed by every legislator in Wyoming and this nation who has opposed or voted against hate crime legislation over the last years. These men and women represented the leadership of our state and nation and sent a clear and tangible message to the people of our state, and to the children of our nation, that it is OK to 'hate gays and lesbians.'

Through opposition to hate crime legislation, which clearly states we will not tolerate hate, our leadership has sanctioned an atmosphere of ignorance, prejudice, oppression and hatred. Our children have been, and are still, listening and watching. Alex and I stand here before you because some of our children heard that message and interpreted it to mean it is OK to savagely torture and murder one of our gay children.

I will never be able to understand the thinking of a person who could do something so horrific to another human being. But these two young men did not in any way try to hide their crime. They did not dump Matt's battered body in some ditch hoping the snow would hide it until next spring. They strung him up on a fence, displaying him like a trophy, announcing to the community and world what they had done. This display was an attempt to intimidate and subjugate Wyo-ming's gay community and send the message that all gays and lesbians deserve such violence.

Those are the actions of people who think somebody, somewhere is going to applaud what they did. Those are the actions of people who believe they are living in an environment that would protect them and allow them to get away with their actions.

I hope they are shocked by the response of the people of Laramie, Wyoming, and this nation. But only time will tell whether on not they were correct in their assessment of the environment in Wyoming and the nation.


Jeremy Corry is a gay man of slight build who works at Emory Hospital.

Return to Oct. 26, 1998 contents page