A Thanksgiving Request
On April 9, at the Epworth United Methodist Church, a memorial service was held for Steve Elkins.
On October 26, at the Washington National Cathedral, Matthew Shepard was laid to rest.
“Gently rest in this place…”
Two shining lights are now dimmed, and I feel as though the circle they began, one through Steve’s life, and one from Matthew’s death, should now be closed.
The circle began thirty years ago on a cold, dark night on the south end of the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, with a gay bashing so horrific it compelled then-Governor Tom Carper to add the words “sexual orientation” to Delaware’s hate-crimes law.
The circle widened twenty years ago, on a cold, dark night, in a remote area east of Laramie, Wyoming, with a killing so horrific that the federal law against bias crimes directed at LGBT people bears Shepard’s name.
“You are safe now…”
It felt as though Steve’s life was a beacon, cutting through the dark, transforming the worst hate by his (and Murray’s) dedication to Creating a More Positive Rehoboth.
It felt as though Matthew’s death was a beacon, cutting through the dark, witnessing the worst that hate could deliver and vowing his death would never be in vain.
And for a while, it seemed those beacons really lit our way.
After all, it was only a scant year and a half later, April 2000, when Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions.
Leaping forward three years, the US Supreme Court struck down the “homosexual conduct” law (Lawrence v. Texas), decriminalizing same-sex conduct and making way for May 17, 2004, the day the first legal US same-sex marriage took place. Thank you, Massachusetts.
And locally, it is July 2, 2009, on Steve Elkin’s birthday, that Governor Jack Markell came to CAMP Rehoboth to sign a new Delaware anti-discrimination law, now revised to include ‘’sexual orientation.”
And the circle rounded, its light glowing far and wide.
September 2011. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed.
May 2012. President Barack Obama told ABC he supports the freedom for LGBT couples to marry. September 2012, the Democratic Party became the first major U.S. political party to publicly support same-sex marriage on a national platform. And on November 6, 2012, Tammy Baldwin punctuated an amazing year, becoming the first openly gay politician elected to the US Senate!
June 26, 2013. The United States v. Windsor. US Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits.
2015. The Military Equal Opportunity policy was adjusted to include gay and lesbian military members, and the Boy Scouts of America announced a resolution removing the national restriction on openly gay leaders and employees.
By now, we are basking in the glow.
2016. In May, the Senate confirms Eric Fanning as Secretary of the Army, making him the first openly gay secretary of a U.S. military branch. And as June begins, President Obama designates the Stonewall Inn and surrounding area as the first national monument to LGBT rights, commemorating the 1969 uprising. Before June ends, the Pentagon lifts the ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military.
“And Matt, welcome home,” says Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church.
If this were a Hollywood movie, the last piece of the circle would find the first piece, latch on and create a glow to emanate far and wide. Roll credits.
But sadly, it’s not a film.
And maybe we should have seen the darkness coming. It was 2016 when the US Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage. But four judges took time to write their own, strongly worded dissents.
Since then, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote an infamous memo to all federal prosecutors, saying that a 1964 federal civil rights law does not protect transgender workers from employment discrimination.
Now we have “transgender erasure” leading a long list of rollbacks and potential rollbacks, as though we are nothing more than items on sale at Walmart. There’s even a new Justice Department “religious liberty task force” to defend health workers who have religious objections to treating LGBT patients.
The shadows are growing, and we face the encroaching darkness with two of our guiding lights laid to rest.
In Judaism, there is a belief that when a soul departs from this world, it leaves behind a dark void. And we light a memorial candle so we might replenish this light.
So this Thanksgiving, please take a minute and light a candle. As both a thank you and a pledge. A pledge to continue to fight the darkness and to replenish the light that Steve Elkins and Matthew Shepard shined so very brightly.
Together we will grab their leads, point our lights towards equality, and close the circle for them, for us, and for those who will follow. ▼
Stefani Deoul is a television producer and author of the award-winning YA mystery series, Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventures, with On a LARP and Zero Sum Game.