By Ellis Cross
For Missouri Western professors Pat Scott and Martha Ellison, the news of Matthew Shepardâ€™s brutal murder in October of 1998 represented more than the loss of a life because of anti-gay hateâ€” it meant the loss of a friend.
Both Ellison and Scott met Matthew at the University of Wyoming, where they taught before leaving for Missouri Western in the summer of 1998.
In October 1998 Matthew was 21 and attending the University of Wyoming, working on his political science degree when he was brutally murdered by two men motivated by anti-gay hate.
Scott, the director of the social work program at MWSU, met Matthew through a mutual friend, Walt Boulden. They met for the first time at Matthewâ€™s apartment warming party.
â€œHe had a baby face, but I knew him to have a good time,â€ Scott said. She also explained that Matthew lived an openly gay lifestyle on campus. He was open, sweet and honest about every aspect of his life, she said.
Scott also alluded that his openness may have been a factor in his murder. Because he was always open and honest, he was also a target for those ignorant and afraid. The two men convicted of killing Matthew testified that Matthew came on to them.
â€œThat wasnâ€™t Matt,â€ Scott said. â€œHe was never like that; he was a gentle soul.â€ Ellison readily agreed.
â€œMatt was a sweet, young, naive gay man who believed people were good,â€ she said. â€œHe had been to my home. We went shopping together, dined out and saw each other socially often. He trusted people and was not cynical. He was a happy person who would occasionally tease a friend but never in a harsh way. Matt did not inflict his views on anyone; Matt never imposed.â€
Ellison also related her personal feelings of conflict between a social worker that should not seek a path of revenge and her anger toward the men who took the life of a good, helpful and giving man. â€œHe would have been a great contributor for society,â€ said Ellison.
She further pointed out that the men responsible for Matthewâ€™s death were young also. She tried to reason why but admitted there was no justification for the brutal way that they left Matthew beaten and tied to a fence on the open prairie.
â€œThere was no need for this violence,â€ Ellison said. â€œIf they did not like Matthew or what he stood for, they should have just walked away.â€
Both Scott and Ellison heard of the tragedy from a phone call from Boulden.
â€œIt was a rude awakening for a lot of people,â€ said Scott. The phone call came before the media had reported the attack. Boulden was the family spokesperson at the time and now lives in the Kansas City area, teaching at UMKC and is working at The Resource Development Institute.
Like many tragedies, this one also has some positive results.
â€œItâ€™s too bad that someone so good and innocent had to pay the price for the good things this event has started,â€ said Ellison.
The University of Wyoming has a very active Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) group dedicated to educating the public on and off campus to fight ignorance and fear. Matthewâ€™s mother, Judy, travels the country speaking about the tragedy while educating people and promoting a better understanding of gay issues. There are many Web sites devoted to Matthewâ€™s memory such as www.matthewshepard.org and www.matthewsplace.com. â€œThe Laramie Project,â€ a groundbreaking film for HBO, started with the energy and frustration of Matthewâ€™s murder.
â€œMatt is now a galvanizing symbol,â€ said Scott.