This Saturday is the 21st anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.
His brutal murder in 1998 shook our community to our core. As we mourned and raged, we organized to ensure that his story was told in the national media and we worked to pass hate crime legislation.
This targeted act of violence against Matthew because of his sexual orientation was not the first of its kind, but it happened a little more than a year after Ellen DeGeneres had publicly come out of the closet. Why is that important?
Ellen’s bravery and sacrifice in coming out occurred at a time when most people in the country claimed to not know an LGBTQ person.
Ellen had one of the highest-rated television shows in the nation, and when she came out, it forced the country to reconcile the fact that they knew an LGBTQ person whom they liked. We know that when people know an LGBTQ person they are much more likely to respect us, support us, and be active allies in the movement. She lost her show, and nearly her career, but we, as a movement, made enormous gains in her wake.
This year we have seen a rise in targeted hate and violence towards our community. The murder of black trans women is an epidemic. Our federal civil liberties currently hang in the balance at the hands of the Supreme Court. We know we are in the fight for our livelihood and lives. Living out and proud is just as important as ever.
The choices of whom you come out to, and when and where you do so, are personal.
Not everyone is going to feel safe to come out at any given movement. Safety should always come first. To those of you who are willing and safely able to come out as LGBTQ or as proactive allies, thank you.
Living free and authentically as yourself is an act of kindness, not only to yourself, but to all the others who didn’t see that path.
Being out carves liberation from the mountain of social expectations and allows for others to walk in the world freely and with a joy that wasn’t possible before. Live free, and others will follow. Your bravery is a transformative act of altruism and can leave a Legacy of Liberation.
Fernando Zweifach López
San Diego Pride