I Thank You for Changing My Life

by Ono Kono

FenceTwo decades ago, I was unaware of the struggle of LGBT people. Back then, I was a busy working Mom, juggling career and family. I cared about others, but I was asleep when it came to their plight. In 1998, my life was changed when a young man lost his life, after he was beaten and left to die. The resultant trial of accused murderers of Mathew Shepherd was made into a circus by a church leader and his followers of the Westborough Baptist Church.

I thank you Phelps clan for opening my heart to love, in spite of your hatred for my LGBT brothers and sisters. I saw the cruelty in your eyes, echoed by the pain in others who watched you. I don’t know what brought you down your path to hatred. I can only say, I thank you for being so open about it, but only because you helped me wake up to the horrid truth that people who hate still exist.

You claim the God of hatred, but I wonder whom you serve? Your legacy will always bear the fruit of hatred and ignorance, yet it is something you learned. I see your children echoing your hatred, and my heart aches for their beautiful innocence lost—their love will harden into the same abhorrence you hold in your heart. I rejoice for every one of them that manages to escape. I only pray for more refugees to leave your self-made prison of loathing, ignorance, and fear.

More importantly, I thank you Matthew Shepard, for opening my heart wide open and giving me awareness of the hatred that took your life. Your story changed me, it shook me to my core—a tragedy which still brings tears to my eyes as I type these words. Your tragic death made me find my voice, as I spoke to others about your plight. You made me a warrior in my small way of speaking out against the wrongs that are happening to homosexuals.

I watched your courageous mother take a stand for you and others like you, in the most tragic time of her life. She couldn’t save you, but she now fights to save others, none of which would have happened, but for you. I don’t know how she gets through her days, being a mother myself; I can’t even fathom losing my child, especially at the hands of hate-filled men. Your mother has filled the void with love for everyone. Now her fight includes my Lesbian daughter, who came out years after your death.

Without you, I may have continued my life in ignorance of the hatred leveled against you. You helped make me an ally for a minority, demonized for who they love. You helped me realize that not only those who call themselves Christians and picket openly against you, but even the “nice” Christians who hide behind the words of “love the sinner, hate the sin” further adding to the insults hurled at you—they don’t know love.

You helped me learn about God’s true love, and those who hold him in their hearts. I realize now, that it is those who truly love and accept you just as you were, are truly living what Jesus said when he commanded us to love one another. He didn’t give us any ifs, ands, or buts. He just told us to love him with all our hearts, and love each other. If he had been here in your lifetime, he would have proudly walked beside you. I can’t help but think you are walking with him now.

These tears falling down upon my cheeks 14 years later, they are mixed with sorrow over your young life removed too soon. Some of those tears are joy, because you helped wake many who were sleeping. I thank two families who have brought to light the hate and the love; both have paid a serious price. One family chose to walk away from their tragedy with love still in their hearts—they changed my life forever. I now have a voice; I speak out about the wrongs that happened to you then, and for all LGBTs who are just as much my human family, deserving the love, dignity, and respect as anyone, every day.

Rest in peace, Matthew Shepard; you’ve helped more people than you will ever know.

Listen to a haunting song
by Dave Crossland called
Matthew Shepard.

Top image by Debbie Teashon, bottom image by Liz Linder.

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About robw77

A single gay dad who cares. His story can be read here: http://www.imagaysingleparent.com/2013/02/02/rob/ and here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/31/rob-watson-gay-family_n_4689661.html
This entry was posted in Civil Rights, Family, Hatred, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to I Thank You for Changing My Life

  1. allydavidstevens says:

    In Buddhism we talk about Bodhisattvas, beings who live their lives for the awakening of other beings. Bodhisattvas will do whatever it takes, up to and including dying, to help others wake up. I guess it’s similar to Martyrdom in Christianity.

    Matthew was, without a doubt, a Bodhisattva and a Martyr. Thank you, Ono, for recognizing the incredible gift that Matthew offered to us. May we live our lives in a way that honors his sacrifice.

  2. Kathy says:

    A stunningly beautiful and heartfelt post. Just… beautiful.

  3. Some of the most inspiring posts I read are from straight allies. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been blessed to not have any horror stories of coming out or just being a lesbian. My friends and family have been loving and supportive. Keeping these memories alive reminds all of us to continue to love. Too often I see people write to “keep fighting”. Fighting is what will keep us in the space of hatred. Keeping our hearts open is what breads more love. Thank you again for this beautiful post.

    • Ono Kono says:

      I am so grateful to hear that you have been blessed with support. I know I say fighting myself, but I think it can also mean standing up, speaking out and not backing down. But I will take your comment to heart.

  4. Niki Humphrey says:

    You are most eloquent in saying what is in my heart everytime I hear the name of Matthew Sheppard. I also was asleep back then and now I fully support all LGBT people and and their rights. I speak up every opportunity I have against bigotry and hate. I only wish I could do it as well as you do…. Bless you..

  5. IcePuckers says:

    I really felt the emotions within while reading your story. I have many friends who are gay/lesbian and I love them all. I hope one day people will open their eyes and love the soul and heart of a person and not by the color of their skin, religion, political views or who they choose to love. Love is after all is all we seek.

  6. Memphis Rain says:

    Matthew changed my life as well. And, because of my personal advocacy for Matthew and my LGBT family, my friends and many aquaintances also now are changed as they pay Matthew, Judy,his entire family and the precious others who have died similarly, forward. I understand the poignancy of your feelings…what a beautiful letter from a beautiful heart. 🙂

  7. Tina Roach says:

    Matthews story is also the reason I changed my attitude towards LGBT. I too never gave a thought about their plight and efforts to just be accepted as human beings. When I saw the story of Matthew, it broke my heart, I could not understand the hatred. I thought about what he might have been thinking as he died. Why? Why does this hatred and indifference still happen today? Thank you very much for your lovely letter. Thank you,Matthew for being you. And opening my eyes to the community. Thank you all for your efforts.

  8. Jesse says:

    This is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing it. It’s so bittersweet the rewards of his mother’s work every day that he had to die to make it happen. I can’t help but wonder how many more examples it will take for people to just, as John Lennon would say, let it be. We are first and foremost human beings, God’s children. We’re all of one and we should be one of one love because that’s what we’re derived from. That one purest selfless unconditional love. God rest you Matthew. I hope to meet you in light of a loving spirit one day.

  9. southbeachsmoker says:

    RIP Matthew, you will never be forgotten. Thank you to this mom for this letter, and for Judy Shepard for all she does.

  10. Brent says:

    Thank you for your eloquent words.

  11. Ken says:

    I really think they should play the story of Matthew more often. I just watched the movie prayers for bobby and i sent that to all of my friends and family to try and help people to see how hard it is to be gay and how people hate. I hate that happen to Matthew and I hope it never happens again to anyone.

  12. APeene says:

    That is a beautiful tribute! Well done.

  13. kzottarelli says:

    I don’t even know how to begin. But at least I know I don’t cry alone, because sometimes it feels as if I am. I cannot possibly imagine the pain Matthew’s mother felt, or any mom who knows her child is being perscuted simply for being. I feel like there is a weight on my chest, a weight of hate that suffocates the love and I have to fight to get it off everyday to let the love out. I stand firmly and proudly with you, my beautiful, loving friend, until the day when we can stand and all be just people. And you are right the song is haunting in a beautiful and sad way…still crying

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