Today, Oct. 12, marks the 23rd anniversary of Matthew Wayne Shepard’s murder.
It is not lost on us that today the Wichita City Council will decide if the LGBTQ community— people like Matthew who make up a legally protected class—deserve equal protection.
On Oct. 6, 1998, two men abducted Matthew near Laramie, Wyoming, tied him to a split rail fence, beat him mercilessly, and left him for dead because he was gay. Rescuers rushed him to a Ft. Collins, CO., hospital where he died six days later. He was 21 years old.
LGBTQ people face discrimination and disproportionate violence every day. In Wichita, citizens have banded together in support of a non-discrimination ordinance to promote a simple message: everyone should be safe and free to live a happy life in their community.
We’re dismayed at how this relatively simple declaration, one adopted by hundreds of cities nationwide and a dozen or so here in Kansas, became controversial and sent ordinarily thoughtful and conscientious people into ideological paralysis.
This led to the current, embarrassing, 90-day voting delay.
Opponents have emptied their quiver, using every bad faith argument they could muster to deny people the protections the people needed.
They said this ordinance was redundant, even though we know it cements vital protections and creates an accessible enforcement process.
They said the language was confusing, even though lawyers fully explained it.
They said this would hurt businesses, even though this creates a much more business-friendly environment.
Through council discussions, public input, guided workshops, and a 90-day delay, we’ve learned the truth; just as we saw in the fight for Civil Rights, some groups will make any argument they can to deny people their full citizenship and protections.
Until we do right by this protected class and, frankly by ourselves (we are all implicated in this mess), justice delayed will remain justice denied.
Ultimately, we hope former British Prime Minister Winston Churchills belief that Americans will always do the right thing—after trying every alternative—holds true.
It’s clear from the discussions that a minority wishes to have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ folks, most specifically people who are trans. What’s unclear is why council hasn’t seen these howls for what they are, a display of precisely why this non-discrimination ordinance is needed.
As we vote on this important protection on the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, we wonder how so many people could forget that Wyoming tragedy, and how close we must be right now, to repeating it.