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July 27, 2007
V 35 Issue 30

 
 
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Matt's Fence Still Exists
Matt's Fence Still Exists
Yesterday, July 23, 2007, I visited Matt's Fence in Laramie, Wyoming, as I have done every year since Matthew Shepard's death.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, "Rumors of the demise of Matt's Fence have been greatly exaggerated."

In fact, the fence, and the small rock monument in the form of an arrow placed on the spot where Matthew Shepard was seated and tied to the fence, are exactly as they were when I visited last year, and all of the years before.

In the past few weeks, numerous reports have stated that Matt's Fence no longer exists. Those rumors and statements are patently not true.

A picture of Matt's Fence, accompanied by the slogan, "The monument of wood no longer exists. We need a monument of Law", has been broadly used by supporters to help build support for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act.

Unfortunately, this misinformation was given traction in a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Moises' Kaufmann, the Producer/Director of the outstanding play and film, "The Laramie Project".

Kaufmann flatly states that the fence no longer exists and was removed by the property owner several years ago.

I have no bone to pick with Mr. Kaufmann, but in his argument in support of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, he has used two glaring falsehoods:

1.) The fence exists just as it has since Matthew Shepard died.

2.) Kaufmann perpetuates the myth that Matthew "hung" on the fence crucifixion-style, which was implied by the cover story in TIME Magazine following Matthew's death.

In truth, Matthew was seated on the ground, leaned against the fence to which he was tied, and beaten repeatedly by his attackers and was left there to die.

"So, what?", you may ask. "Why make a big deal of this?"

My answer is, "The truth is always important." No group of people have been more victimized by lies and untruths than those of us in the GLBT Community.

We must always strive to use facts and truth to win full legal equality in our lifetime, even in situations where the truth is inconvenient when dramatizing the importance of our issues.

The following is a piece I wrote following my first visit to Matt's Fence in July, 2001

Matt's Fence

.A week ago tonight I was in Laramie, and went with my new friend, Laura, to see the fence where Matthew Shepard was left to die. It is a little hard to find. She had seen it once before when she was out running, so knew generally where it was. We parked the van and walked for a little more than a quarter of a mile and came over a little rise, and there it was. The evening was absolutely beautiful! Approaching dusk, huge thunderheads, lightning in the distance, and the wide open spaces of the Wyoming landscape. I walked all the way around the fence. The rough bark is still on the poles. I felt sadness and anger, and also a sense of reverence. It occurred to me that throughout the ages people like us have been tied to poles like these and burned alive. Some say that is where the term 'faggot' comes from.

As we were preparing to walk back to the van, we saw a horse and rider approaching. It was very eerie. Neither Laura nor I said anything, but many different things ran through our minds. In the gathering dusk, the figure on the horse was sillouetted against the sky with no discernible features. My thoughts ran all the way from, "Is this Matthew's ghost?", to fear that we were going to encounter some kind of trouble or unpleasantness.

We stopped and waited for the approaching rider. When he got to us, he stopped and said quietly, "You here to see Matt's fence?" I nodded and said, "Yeah, we are." Then he said, "I come here quite a bit myself. I just live over there," he indicated some place off in the distance. I stepped up to his horse and stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, my name's Jim." To which he replied, "Hi, my name's Jim, too." Nothing more was said. We all just stood there. It was a magical moment. Three human beings and a roan horse experiencing grief, and a unity of spirit which we all understood. After a couple of minutes I said, "Have a good evening," and we went our separate ways. Laura and I walked back to the van in silence and drove back into town.

, July 17, 2001

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