Teach Your Children Well

I remember this day in 1998.

Fourteen years ago today, Matthew Shepard died.

For those of you who do not remember, Matthew was an average young man, practically a kid, attending college at the University of Wyoming. On the night of October 6, two young men from Laramie, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, lured Matthew from a local dive bar to their pick-up truck, drove Matthew to a remote location outside of town, removed his shoes, tied him to a post and beat him into unconsciousness. Matthew was found the 18 hours later by a cyclist who at first mistook him for a scarecrow. It was only when Matthew’s chest raised and lowered as he struggled to breathe that the cyclist realized that this was a human being. He was covered in dried blood… except for two lines down his face, where tears had washed the sanguine matter away.

Matthew was transferred to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. At 12:53 a.m. on October 12, 1998, he passed away. He never regained consciousness.

Matthew was 21 years of age.

I’ll never comprehend what drove McKinney and Henderson to commit such a nihilistic and brutal act. They claimed gay panic – Matthew was a known homosexual, and they argued that he made sexual advances. That defense was discounted by multiple witnesses.

I think one simple emotion determined poor Matthew’s fate. Hate.

Hatred is not a natural emotion. Children are not born with the capacity to hate. Hatred is something that is taught and learned.

I’m thinking about that night – and Matthew. How cold he must have been. The pain – he had more than 18 skull fractures. How alone he was. How afraid. I wonder what he thought before he fell into coma. I’m fairly certain he knew he was going to die.

I’m going to think a lot about Matthew today. I’m going to think about those that hate. I won’t hate them back.

I have someone in my life who takes every opportunity she is presented with to tell me how much she hates me. Hates my guts, hates my life, finds me worthless, stupid, selfish, dumb.

I’m wishing her the same reply that I have always given, and always will: I love you. Please get the help that you need.

So today, it’s off to watch THE LARAMIE PROJECT by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project, in memory of all that Matthew was… and in celebration of how his death has helped to transform us into a better iteration of our selves.

* Post note – you can watch the HBO adaptation of the play on YouTube. It’s in parts… but well worth it.

Teach your children well. When in doubt, hug them. You can never tell them you love them too often.

And never, ever teach them the word “hate.”

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe

About princessscribe

Screenwriter. Creator of things. I love tacos. "Midlife on Fire" Volumes 1 & 2 now available at Amazon.com.
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3 Responses to Teach Your Children Well

  1. A Dog With Fleas says:

    This was so poignant and brought me back to that time too. I can never imagine the hatred those two must have held in their hearts to do such a heinous act. And you put into words how I felt about Matthew with what he was going through alone, by himself.

    Just reading your words brought tears to my eyes, and I hope no one every forgets this young man who had his whole life ahead of him. But two gutless, hatefull bastards took that away from him.

    Thanks for sharing this and making people take time out of their day to remember him.


  2. Frank Wood says:

    Hate is contagious, like love. We teach either to everyone when we allow ourselves to feel either, and each cures the other. Matthew was not only killed by the two homophobes but by those who taught them to hate. Our emotions make ripples in the pond of humanity, multiplied and manifested outside our knowledge. We are transmitters of effect, caused within the privacy of our own emotions. Although most of us do not take the blame, we are each responsible for the world around us. What higher concept, what more elevated theme could we characterize with our writing?
    “You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.” -Gandhi
    “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war”. -Einstein


  3. ahamin says:

    Poor Matthew… May he rest in peace.
    I too had my own share of hatred from many to the point of physical violence. I was an Iraqi kid who lived in Kuwait, so you can imagine how tough my childhood was. Hatred blinds everyone and it affects us all.
    Matthew was a causality of hate, thanks for not letting his death be in vain and for sharing his story with us.


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