Matthew Shephard's Legacy Shines On Through Me.

Matthew Shepard's Legacy Shines On Through Me

National Coming Out Day, Matthew Shephard's death, and me.


I first saw "The Laramie Project," directed by Moises Kaufman, a few years after its 2002 release date. In high school, Matthew Shephard was the first person I knew of who was killed because he was gay.

The particulars of his death were not made available — though there was extensive coverage of the case. To look into it more deeply would bring too much negative attention to one's self. All we were supposed to know was that if you were gay and out, there was a good chance you'd be killed for it.

What touched me so much about the film was the courage everyone displayed. It took courage to want to tell the story. It took courage to want to be part of telling the story. It took courage to do the interviews that the movie comprised of. It took courage to put this play on despite the hatred and prejudices the LGBTPQA+ community still suffers from after Matthew's death.

Next to the discovery of Matthew's body, the most moving part of the film was the speech that Dennis Shephard, Matthew's father, gave to Aaron McKinney, one of the two convicted of Matthew's murder. To drive home the importance, the significance, and the finality of what he and Russell Henderson did to Matthew. He could have chosen to allow the court to put the boys to death. Instead, he chose to create a teachable moment out of tragedy.

Matthew Shephard died October 12th, the day after National Coming Out Day. Matthew's personal Coming Out Story turned out to have a happy ending. His parents and brother accepted him immediately, and they advocate for him to this day. My personal coming out story didn't end with abandonment, blatant rejection, or violence. But others' stories are heartbreaking.

There is still so much more work to be done to prevent other hate crimes. Writing to councilmen, councilwomen, and state representatives asking them to create or pass bills that guarantee tougher sentencing on those who commit hate crimes in order to make people think twice about wanting to murder another human being. Joining or starting a social services agency that brings awareness of the plights of LGBTPQA+ individuals in order to hopefully appeal to would be perpetrators' humane sides. Putting faces and stories in people's hearts to prevent further bloodshed.

I wish I had personally known Matthew Shephard. We could've sat and talked about the state of gay affairs for hours while admiring the scenery of Laramie, Wyoming. We could've put on hilarious theatricals for the rest of our friends, and prepared a kick ass table for Pride.

I wish that Matthew had lived. That he finished college, met a great guy, and got into human rights. He'd have put up a great fight for “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” marriage equality, and focus on getting basic human rights for the LGBTPQA+ community. And I'd have been right there with him every step of the way.

Now 20 years after his death, we have a complete repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” federally recognized marriage equality, hate crime legislations galore, and we're working hard to get basic human rights everywhere. I'm sure Matthew is smiling down on us.

May he continue to rest in peace.

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9 Queer Pride Flags That You Probably Didn't Know About

The rainbow flag is certainly the most recognizable, but it isn't the only Pride Flag there is.

It's Pride Month yet again and fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies are celebrating. Normally around this time of year, we expect to see that all-too-familiar rainbow colored flag waving through the air, hanging from windows and sported on clothing of all types. Even when not strictly a flag, the colors of the rainbow are often displayed when showing support of the larger queer community. But what many people do not realize is that there are many, many pride flags for orientations of all kinds, so Natasha and I (Alana Stern) have created this handy guide to some others that you may not yet be familiar with:

1. L is for Lesbian and G is for Gay

The most recognizable letters of the entire acronym, L (Lesbian) and G (Gay), represent the homosexual people of the LGBTQ+ community. Homosexuality is defined as being exclusively sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Again, although the rainbow Pride flag is easily the most iconic and recognizable, there is a Lesbian Pride Flag as well. Specifically for "Lipstick Lesbians," this flag was made to represent homosexual women who have a more feminine gender expression. Here are the Lesbian Pride Flag (left) and Gay Pride Flag with the meaning of each stripe (right).

2. B is for Bisexual

Bisexuality is defined as the romantic and/or sexual attraction towards both males and females. They often go unacknowledged by people who believe that they cannot possibly feel an attraction for both sexes and have been called greedy or shamed in many ways for being who they are, but not this month. This month we recognize everyone and their right to love. Here is the flag and symbol that represents the big B!

3. T is for Transgender (Umbrella)

Gender identities are just as diverse as sexual orientations. Transgender people are people whose gender does not necessarily fall in line with their biological sex. That is to say, someone who is born male may not feel that calling oneself a man is the best way to describe who they are as a person; the same can go for someone who is born female or intersex (we'll get to that in a bit). Someone born female may feel that they prefer to be referred to as a man. Someone born male may feel that they don't mind being referred to as either a man or a woman. And someone may feel that neither term really fits. Identities can range from having no gender, to multiple genders, to having a gender that falls outside of the typical gender binary of man/woman, to anything in between. The colors of the flag are blue (the traditional color for boys), pink (the traditional color for girls) and white (to represent those who are intersex, transitioning, or have a gender that is undefined).

Okay! Here's where we get into the lesser-known letters of the acronym. You may have heard of some of these before but didn't quite know what they meant or how they fit into the larger queer community, or you may not have heard of them at all. Either way, we'll do our best to explain them!

4. I is for Intersex

Intersex people are people who are have a mix of characteristics (whether sexual, physical, strictly genetic or some combination thereof) that would classify them as both a male and a female. This can include but is not limited to having both XX and XY chromosomes, having neither, being born with genitalia that does not fit within the usual guidelines for determining sex and appearing as one sex on the outside but another internally. It is possible for intersex people to display the characteristics from birth, but many can go years without realizing it until examining themselves further later in life. Here is an older version of the intersex flag which utilizes purple, white, blue and pink (left) and a more recent one that puts an emphasis on more gender-neutral colors, purple and yellow (right).

5. A is for Aro-Ace Spectrum

The A in the acronym is usually only defined as Asexual, which is a term used to describe people who experience a lack of sexual attraction to any sex, gender, or otherwise. People who are asexual can still engage in healthy romantic relationships, they just don't always feel the need or have the desire to have sex and are not physically attracted to other people. If that's confusing, think of it this way: you are attracted women, but not men. You may see a man and think, "He's kind of cute" or "That's a pretty good-looking guy," but you still would not feel any desire towards that person, because that's not what you're into. Asexual people generally feel that way about everyone. That's the "Ace" half of "Aro-Ace."

"Aro," or Aromantic, is a term used to describe people who do not experience romantic attraction. Aromantic people still have healthy platonic relationships, but have no inclination towards romantic love. The reason Asexual and Aromantic are together is because they are very heavily entwined and oftentimes can overlap. Underneath that spectrum are also other variations of asexuality (including but not limited to people who still feel as though they are asexual but experience sexual attraction in very rare circumstances, or only after they have a romantic connection) and aromanticism (including but not limited to people who still feel as though they are aromantic but experience romantic attraction in very rare circumstances).

Below are two versions of the Aromantic Pride Flag (top and middle) and the Asexual Pride Flag (bottom).

6. P and O are for Panseuxal and Omnisexual

Pansexual and omnisexual people are not limited by gender preferences. They are capable of loving someone for who they are and being sexually attracted to people despite what gender their partner identifies as. The word pansexual comes from the Greek prefix "pan-", meaning all. Pansexuals or Omnisexuals will probably settle for whoever wins their heart regardless of that persons gender.

7. But what about the Q?!

The Q can be said to stand for Queer or Questioning, or both. "Queer" is more of a blanket term for people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community or who identify as something other than heterosexual or cisgender (a term that has come to describe people who feel that their gender does fall in line with their biological sex; i.e. someone born male feels that he is a man). It is also possible for someone to identify as queer, but avoid using it to refer to specific people unless you know they are okay with it; some people still consider it insulting. Questioning means exactly what it sounds like: it gives a nod to those who are unsure about their sexuality and/or gender identity or who are currently in the process of exploring it.

There's no one flag specifically for the letter Q, as all of the above sexualities and identities technically fall underneath this term.

This list is hardly comprehensive and there are a number of other flags, orientations and identities to explore. Pride Month is still going strong, and there's always more to learn about the ever-changing nature of sexuality as a whole and the way we understand it. It's a time for celebration, but also a time to educate and spread the word.

For a more in-depth description of different types of attraction and how they work, click here.

For more complete lists of gender identities throughout history, click here or here.

For a general list of commonly used words in the LGBTQ+ community and their definitions, click here.

Now go grab a flag and fly it high--you've got a ton to choose from!

Cover Image Credit: 6rang

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Being Transgender Does Not Mean I Want To Be Cis

I am proud to be within the LGBTQ+ community, thus I want to be recognized as queer.


So, as I am transitioning and taking on more masculine characteristics, I have noticed a shift in the interactions not only from peers, but from random individuals as well. What do I mean by this? Well let me break it down into the following three categories: conversation topics, respect, and safety.

Retail Topics In The South: Gun Control

First of all, yes, I am still in retail. But, secondly I am working retail in the South where we sell guns. True, Dicks Sporting Goods sells guns, but the removal of the assault-style rifles has sparked many conversations. While checking customers out at the register, it is habit to ask, "did you find everything alright", but recently I have held back from asking this question because the talk of guns in the store has come up on several occasions. For me? I do not like guns. For my dad? He likes them and I respect that. Thus, I know a little bit about them because of him.

Since transitioning, I have noticed a shift in the interaction with customers, more so elder males. Before transitioning, I didn't get asked my opinions on guns or anything pertaining to civilians' rights. Why? Maybe because my voice sounded feminine as did my appearance. Let's face it who wants a female's opinion anyways? (I hope this was taken as a sarcastic joke.)

Now, I have had more customers talk to me about their opinion on Dicks Sporting Goods removal of certain rifles. Why? One reason could be the physical appearance I give off. Thus, living in the South, physically being perceived as a straight white male, and being the one to sign off and check out any fire arm, I have had many awkward interactions because I can't help but think they perceive me as a "cis" male. Literally, these individuals speak their mind about "our country our right" and I just stand their holding my opinion back.

Why? Because there have been many incidents where not just members of the LGBTQ+ community, but other communities have been victims of violence due to guns. And it is not that I want to make light of the use of guns, but there is a fine line of stating my personal opinion and my job needs to be separate from that.

I Am Respected More

When I identified as a lesbian and had the female characteristics, many inappropriate jokes were made about how I "came to be" a lesbian. I won't go into further detail, but in no way did that have anything to do with how I began to date females. Since transitioning, I have been respected more.

However, I am beginning to recognize the "male dominance" and I am not sure I agree, nor like it. For example, a random individual told me about his relationship. He furthered the conversation by stating, "She learned not to talk to me like that anymore," and I couldn't help but feel disrespected. Personally, I wanted to rare back at him. Why? Because I too was female and females are not cowards. Females are just as independent and strong as males. However, being recognized as a male, the individual was clueless on who he was saying what to. However, I'm sure I was seen as a pubescent boy. Thus, putting me one step ahead of a pubescent female.

Now, I cannot sit here and state I have never made a disrespectful or inappropriate joke, but it put into perspective the differences in respect of the two binary genders. I am aware of females and their insecurities and I am aware of the LGBTQ+ community in that respect. But, still, there are times where I have to rethink my jokes and I have had to apologize on occasion for them being over the top. I am literally two "genders" in one body...said no "cis" person ever. (Lame attempt at a joke because I am no comedian).

For The Love Of Safety

I constantly have to remind myself that society does not see me as how I identify. It is none of their business as I am living my life as I wish. However, I am cautious of what I say around certain individuals, not because I care about their opinions, but I am concerned about my own safety. Not only is it the physical safety, but it is also the verbal and nonverbal safety I need. What do I mean by verbal and nonverbal? Well, verbal is pretty clear due to the day to day most of us use to interact and communicate with each other whereas nonverbal are the body vibes given off.

While I may think I can handle any form of physical contact (gym gains), I struggle with the verbal and nonverbal abuse I have received. There have been many derogatory comments made when I have gone into the "wrong" bathroom and other nonverbal ques suggesting I am a bother when I am blatantly standing, minding my own business. Too many individuals are concerned about "what" I am (as though I am not human) as opposed to who I am. I sometimes feel unsafe because of that.

Allow me to stare at you for no apparent reason and have someone ask you if they were in the right bathroom as though they didn't see the sign before heading in. Thus, I could state I am transgender, but its safest if I go along with society and agree that yes, in fact, they are in the men's restroom looking at a man or yes, they are in the female restroom looking at a female. Because I am non-binary, I lean both ways. (Add the emoji with their hand propped at a ninety degree angle) For the love of all safety, why do we need two gendered bathrooms if we could all just have stalls instead? Food for thought: we are lucky to have toilets, plumbing, and some sort of privacy whereas other places do not.

Safety is not something I take lightly because I cannot "expose" myself to society just yet. Why? LGBTQ+ individuals are still fighting to be seen as human beings in some instances. Call this extreme, but trans rights are human rights and humans are constantly being attacked, LGBTQ+ or not, safety is a worldwide issue that has not stopped. Love is love.

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