Op-ed: Can You Spare a Minute?
What can you do in forty-five minutes?
Forty-five minutes is barely enough time to leap out of bed, jump in the shower, throw on some clothes, gulp down some breakfast, and dash out of the house on a weekday morning. Forty-five minutes is hardly enough time to take a walk, go for a bike ride, eat a nice dinner, or hang out with a friend on a Saturday night. It takes longer than forty-five minute to go grocery shopping, do the Sunday crossword puzzle, or watch the latest episode of Glee.
Three-quarters of an hour can disappear in the blink of an eye. Or it can last a lifetime.
On October 6, 1998, at 11:45 p.m. in Laramie, Wyoming, three young men left a bar called the Fireside Lounge in a pickup truck and headed for the outskirts of town. Approximately 45 minutes later, between 12:26 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. that same pick up truck was seen heading back in the direction from which it had come. But now there were only two young men inside it. The third, Matthew Shepard, had been robbed, kicked, punched, pummeled, pistol whipped, lashed to a fence, and left to die. And he did die, five days later, with his family at his side. According to police estimates, it takes about 16 minutes to drive from the Fireside Lounge to the fence to which Matt was tied. In other words, Matthew’s murderers killed him in approximately 25 minutes.
What can you do in 25 minutes?
Twenty-five minutes isn’t long enough to run the dishwasher, play a game of Scrabble, or bake a birthday cake. Twenty-five minutes isn’t long enough to do a load of laundry, shovel the driveway after a snowstorm, or listen to a CD. And yet, in a mere 25 minutes, the life of a 21-year-old man was completely destroyed. Why? Because two people hated him for being gay.
One of the last things Matthew Shepard did on that fatal Tuesday night was attend a meeting of the University of Wyoming’s Gay, Lesbian Bisexual, and Transgendered Association. Gay Awareness Week was about to begin on campus. Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney were well aware of this. They pretended to be gay so they could lure Matt into their pick up truck. Once he was trapped between them in the cab, Aaron McKinney poked him in the eye with his pistol and said, “Guess what? We’re not gay. You’re going to get jacked.”
It took 18 hours for Matt to be discovered by Aaron Kreifels, a student who happened to be out riding his mountain bike near the fence. It took 20 minutes for Sheriff Deputy Reggie Fluty to arrive upon the scene. It took five minutes for Matt’s parents, who were living in Saudi Arabia at the time, to be told over the phone that their son had been brutally attacked. It took 19 hours for them to arrange their flight to the U.S. It took 20 hours for them to fly to St. Paul, Minn., where they picked up Matt’s younger brother Logan, and made their way towards their injured son. It took one scant second for Matt to draw the last breath of his life.
Fourteen years have passed since Matthew Shepard was murdered. And while some things have changed (gay marriage is now legal in half a dozen states; "don’t ask, don’t tell" has been repealed) some things haven’t changed. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 30 members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, and HIV-positive community were murdered in 2011, an 11% increase from the previous year and the highest number of murders in one year ever reported.
Fourteen years is made up of 5,113 days or 7,358,400 minutes. Every one of those minutes is precious and fleeting. What can you do with some of these valuable minutes to make the world a safer place so that what happened to Matthew Shepard and other hate crime victims will never happen again?
•Educate yourself: October is National LGBT History Month. Attend an LGBT event such as a lecture, film, play, or reading, or go to a meeting of your local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). (45 minutes)
•Use your voice: Compose a letter supporting LGBT rights and send it to your local newspaper and/or state representative (25 minutes)
•Show you care: Call, text, or email someone you know who is LGBT, just to say hello. (5 minutes)
•Open your wallet: Make a donation to an LGBT organization such as the Matthew Shepard Foundation so they can continue their work to erase hate (1 minute)
•Open your heart: Smile at a member of the LGBT community you pass on the street (1 second).
Time is of the essence.
LESLÉA NEWMAN is the author of October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, Heather Has Two Mommies, and many other books. For more on her work, visit LesleaKids.com and watch the trailer to Newman's latest book on Matthew Shepard below: