Today’s Video Story was collected on the 50-state Story Tour. Check out the blog where you can follow us on our adventure. If you haven’t submitted a story yet to IFD, or if you want to submit another one, I’d love to read and publish it. Write one up and send it in.
I’m Jason Marsden. I am from Casper, Wyoming and I was a friend of Matt Shepard’s around 1997, and one of his friends was friends with one of my friends – was a colleague at the newspaper and I ended up at a birthday party that he was at, so I came in and he recognized me and was like, “Your Jason Marsden from the Casper Star Tribune, aren’t you?” I thought, “Oh boy, where’s this going?” And he was really upset about, there’d been nothing in the paper about the Taliban who had taken over Afghanistan and were preventing women from leaving their homes under penalty of the lash. And preventing girls from attending school which had been the custom – at least in parts of the country. Politely enough thought it was a damn outrage that there was nothing in the statewide newspaper about it and a it was the first I had heard about it and I was kind of embarrassed and just kind of sat there. It was only years later after September 11th that I realized, obviously like we all did that it was really important and also it was Matthew Shepard who had told me about it in the first place, long before anybody else was paying any attention to it. When he was attacked in Laramie which of course turned into a huge worldwide news story – I was working in the Casper Star Tribune newsroom and a couple of my editors asked me to go back into the conference rooms and they sort of slide this press release across the desk from the Albany County Sheriff’s office about an attack that had taken place and the victim was in very bad shape at the hospital in Ft. Collins and it appeared to be an anti gay hate crime and further more that the reporter that they had sent down to Laramie from the Cheyenne bureau had talked to some people who new the victim who pointed out that he was friends with another reporter at the newspaper, which was me. So, long story short – that if I wanted to not stay in the newsroom obviously I could go home and just not be around all this coverage of this horrible attack that was on a friend of mine and apparently he was singled out for being gay. And at the time I didn’t have internet at home and there was really not a better place to be to keep tabs on the story than the newsroom of a statewide newspaper so, stuck around the newsroom, followed the story very closely. My colleagues did the real reporting on it and the there were several days of a vigil really – of people waiting to see if Matt was going to recover and it became clear that his condition was terrible and irrecoverably injured. So I wrote a column the day he died and outed myself sort of in passing in an effort to point out that there were other gay people in Wyoming and that this was not a place that was abusive to gay people or where gay people should expect to be attacked – that there were many of us – Wyoming is really diverse and didn’t deserve the black eye it was getting from the sort of surface level media coverage and ultimately a little bit about what Matthew was like – that he was interested in diplomacy and that he had studied foreign languages and wanted to do work that made the world a better place. Was very concerned about women’s rights and the developing world and poverty issues and the environment and social justice – my fear at the time was that we were going to lose what Matt was really like – that he’d be remembered for something terrible that happened to him. What happened really did touch millions of people and it helped galvanize the gay community into some of the activism that has brought some political progress and that’s meaningful. I just didn’t want to see Matt the person get lost – that he was affectionate, and really cared about people and wanted to live in a better world than the one we’re stuck with. So, Judy Shepard came down to the newsroom and asked to see me, and she came to say thanks and that she really appreciated that someone who knew Matt put a little bit about him out there and that it was going to be easier for people to get a sense of what he was like and not just what had happened to him – and I’ll never forget her kindness that day I was absolutely bowled over by it.