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Op-Ed in Examiner: Ten Years After Matthew Shepard

Ten years after Matthew Shepard

By Mark Jason McLaurin
Examiner Guest Columnist 10/10/08

I will never forget the day I learned Matthew Shepard died. I remember how jarring it was that someone in my peer group could have to confront blind hatred and ferocious violence at such an early age. I remember wondering what his last thoughts were as he lost consciousness tied to that fence in what I considered to be the middle of nowhere. I remember saying a silent prayer that thousands of beautiful angels had arrived to gently carry him up to heaven where he would never again know the pain of fear and the horror of hatred.

To my shame, I also recall thinking how different a place Wyoming must be than Baltimore — where I grew up and came out. I recall the pride that I took in my perceived ability to be who I was and live how I wanted. As an African American, I can recall, with no small amount of embarrassment, how I drew upon stereotypes about what kinds of people lived in rural areas and down south and out west to reinforce my sense that such unspeakable tragedies simply couldn’t or wouldn’t take place in the city where I grew up, that such hate-related violence simply wouldn’t be tolerated on the streets I called home.
While 10 years of living have brought me some perspective, I still believed being perceived as gay or lesbian in Baltimore’s black community could be fraught with ostracism and various perils, but that it was guaranteed not to be fatal.

My false sense of security was shattered Aug. 19, when I learned, along with the rest of Baltimore, that the May 29 slaying of 18-year-old Steven Parrish, just days before his graduation from Randallstown High School, was the result of his fellow gang members’ belief that he was gay. Even the unconfirmed suspicion was apparently enough to warrant his slaying. He was stabbed and bludgeoned more than 50 times in virtually his own backyard, waylaid on his way to driver’s education class. A chill ran down my spine as did a tear down my cheek. Hatred moved to Baltimore. I began to realize that the house that I grew up in was less than half a mile from the homicide scene. Any notions I had of relative safety in this community where I grew up and where I have devoted my life to bettering were disabused.

This week, I will remember Steven as well as Matthew. I will work to ensure Steven’s death receives attention as Matthew’s did. I will insist that this community come to grips with the consequences of unaddressed homophobia. Baltimore deserves a whole lot better, and so did Steven.

Mark Jason McLaurin is director of legislative affairs for the Public Justice Center in Baltimore.

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