What Matthew Shepard Means To Me

What Matthew Shepard Means To Me

photo of Matthew Shepard's memorial bench on the U of Wyoming campus - plaque reads "Matthew Wayne Shepard * December 1, 1976 - October 12, 1998 * Beloved son, brother, and friend * He continues to make a difference * Peace be with him and all who sit here"; under photo is a black text box with white text "What Matthew Shepard Means To Me" and "Chronic Sex"

TW: death, murder, homomisia, hate crimes.

When I was ten years old, I had already been through a lot of rough stuff. I knew that I didn’t feel as girly as I ‘should,’ and knew I liked both boys and girls.

In October 1998, I heard about a man who was beaten and nearly dead. As more news came out, I learned that Matthew Shepard had been harmed because he was gay. To this day, there are conflicting reports about this, but I believe this played a part.

It felt like the whole world was watching. As a baby queer growing up in a conservative household, this attack hit me hard. I didn’t have the words to express my feels, but kept crying – something I absolutely hate doing.

I realized why people felt they had to hide their sexuality. Even today, when things really haven’t changed as much as we like to think, it’s understandable. I still feel a bit of fear when I go out dressed more manly – and won’t ever go out with my packer.

I wanted to go and attend a vigil or go counter-protest the WBC jerks. There are many reasons that couldn’t happen, but I’ve felt this pull to go there for a long time.

Matthew was HIV positive, something that wasn’t well-known until he was in the hospital following the attack. The reason this got notoriety was mostly out of concern for the responding officer. She had faulty supplies and so worked on saving Matthew sans gloves. There was a good amount of ableism around HIV afterward. I didn’t understand why people were so harmful, so judgmental. After all, I had already been tested as a child due to my doctors taking forever to find my diagnosis of Still’s Disease.

I will always wonder what kind of HIV and AIDS advocate Matthew would’ve become had he survived.

By the time he died the following week, there was already a movement started to improve hate crime laws. By 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This officially added sexual orientation and gender to then-existing hate crime laws.

In high school, I watched as classmates put on The Laramie Project – a play based on interviews with Laramie residents following Matthew’s death. I cried nearly the entire time. By the time I was in college, I was fortunate enough to attend a speech Matthew’s mother Judy gave about the events and her subsequent work on LGBT+ rights and hate crimes through the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Again, I cried for much of that.

As I’ve begun navigating my own queerness, it seems that there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Matthew or his family. It’s such an odd thing to say since I didn’t and don’t know them. His attack and death taught me so much about the world, though, and the way it views us.

In June of last year, the husband and I drove his old car from Wisconsin to California to give it to my sister. Our route took us through Laramie, and I knew we needed to stop at the University of Wyoming campus to visit Matthew’s memorial bench. I sat on the bench, crying, and ‘talking’ to Matthew.

This was in the middle of me figuring out my gender identity, but before I’d come out to anyone. It was comforting to sit there, to be in a spot that was set aside specifically to remember Matthew and his life. I felt so peaceful afterward.

With rollbacks happening to our rights, we have to remember these fights. It’s been 19 years, but we are by no means done with fighting for our fellow LGBTQQIA2+ or disabled/chronically ill siblings. Matthew reminds me how much one person can impact others. He inspires me on days when I’m tired of constantly fighting bills and asking Congresspeople not to harm us.

Maybe he can help you keep fighting, too.

It’s National HIV Testing Day

Did you know that one in seven people with HIV doesn’t even know they have it?

Part of why is the stigma that still surrounds HIV and AIDS. Many people seem to think the stigma has died out, but they’re neither involved in our communities nor paying attention. Better medications and prevention methods exist, but the stigma of HIV and AIDS remains. This is especially true in the deep south.

Today is National HIV Testing Day here in the states – and a day to talk about erasing some of that stigma.

I’ve been there. I’ve been tested a few times in my life. Each time, I shook in the waiting room before the appointment. Each time, I cried in the car on the way home. It’s as if getting tested meant I was admitting to some moral indiscretion that doesn’t exist.

Hell, one of those times was just before my wedding. I had not had any experiences that led me to exposure and still was told I needed to be tested pre-wedding. Neither hubs nor myself are generally exposed and the experience honestly left a bad taste in my mouth.

Each time, I received negative results.

What matters most in getting tested is having a good experience (unlike the last one I had!). Sometimes, all it takes is a cultural barrier to turn people off from getting tested regularly.

Want to learn more?

Check out the new HIV Risk Reduction Tool (RRT)

Learn more about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis)

Check out the amazing HIV and AIDS activists below:

Most importantly, find a test center near you and get tested!

March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

In 2014, new diagnoses broke down like this:

  • Black women – 62%
  • Latinx women – 16%
  • White – 18%

New diagnosis rates are falling! Still, there is a lot of progress we have to make. One major issue is how there is so much stigma still associated with HIV/AIDS.

What can we do?

Take time to learn about HIV, living with HIV, and other resources. My favorites are patient activists Josh Robbins of I’m Still Josh and Brian Ledford of A Marine and HIV.

You also should check out episode 3 of our podcast with DJ D-REK.

Make sure that you take steps to protect yourself and others by using Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) within 3 days of unprotected genital fun, and make sure to use condoms or dental dams for all genital contact you have in non-monogamous situations.

Get tested by visiting this site, texting your zip code to 566948, or calling 1-800-232-4636.

If you want to help raise awareness, you can donate a Facebook post or tweet via Thunderclap or use the tags #NWGHAAD and #bestdefense on social media.

Facts in this post come from Womenshealth.gov, the CDC, and AIDS.gov.

World AIDS Day

Today, December 1, is World Aids Day.

There is so much to share about AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes it, but let’s start with the basics.

First things first, our chat questions tonight will be all about World AIDS Day.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. What it does is it attacks the CD4 T cells that helps the immune system protect you.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. This happens when the amount of your CD4 T cells drop below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood OR if you have what is called an opportunistic infection.

The CDC estimates that 1.2 million people are currently living with HIV in the United States. Perhaps the scarier thing is that roughly 1 in 8 don’t even know they’re carrying the virus.

Again, according to the CDC, new infections are occurring most often in men who have sex with men (all races), African-American heterosexual women, and Latinx. Transgender people also have higher infection rates, with an average 28% infection rate in transgender women in 2008. The Southern US has the highest infection rate followed by the Northeast and Midwest.

What are ways you can be exposed to HIV?

  • Blood
  • Cum or pre-cum
  • Anal fluids
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

In order to really be exposed, though, these fluids would need to come into contact with damaged tissue, mucous membranes, or pop right on into your bloodstream.

The only way to know if you have HIV or AIDS is to get tested, especially because symptoms include things like swollen lymph nodes, rash, fever, fatigue and other issues typical of basically every stinking disease or virus ever.

There are ways of preventing transmission of the HIV virus. Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is meant to be taken as a daily pill by those in high-risk exposure situations such as being the partner to a person with HIV/AIDS. Obviously, this is used in combination with sexual barriers like condoms as well as testing every three months or so.

There is also post-exposure prophylaxis in case of emergencies. This consists of taking antiretroviral medications as soon as possible after exposure (within 72 hours). The person has to take this medication 1-2 times daily for a month and, even then, it’s not a guarantee for preventing the virus.

yellow text on a grey-brown background: nearly 2 in 5 people don't realise HIV can be passed on through heterosexual sex' from the world aids day/ national aids trust in the uk
Courtesy of worldaidsday.org

There is a lack of education on HIV/AIDS. In the early 1990s, in my childhood, it was incredibly important to talk about HIV/AIDS. Real treatments were coming out, the AIDS quilt was constantly being expanded, and speakers came to schools to correct misconceptions about the virus. By the mid-1990s, we had things like Rent, Philadelphia, And the Band Played On, and The Cure. Angels in America came in the early 2000s and reignited conversations about the handling of the epidemic, stigmas, and the need to educate others.

Abstinence-only education only served to combat this by eliminating real conversations like ways people could protect themselves and the need to get tested. Many people, especially in the 13-24 age range, don’t realize that getting tested is something they should do.

Tests are incredibly quick, simple, and can be done with a cheek swab or a finger prick. Testing is also confidential.

Others still don’t have access to testing resources. One of the biggest problems there is the misconception highlighted by the GOP (sorry, pals) that Planned Parenthood only does abortions. In fact, they are one of the biggest testing facilities for ALL sexually transmitted infections and many forms of cancer.

yellow text on grey-brown background that says 'HIV treatment has advanced tremendously; public attitudes are lagging behind' from the National AIDS Trust from the UK
Courtesy of www.worldaidsday.org

There is a major issue with stigma. People don’t get tested, often, because they think it’s a ‘gay men’ disease. Many people still don’t understand that everyone, regardless of whom they have sex or share sexual activities with, can get HIV/AIDS. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, lesbian, bi/pansexual, transgender, queer, etc., you can still be exposed to and get HIV.

One of the biggest problems facing the HIV-positive/AIDS population is access to healthcare. Even those who can afford to see their physicians may not be able to afford the medications. After all, let’s not forget Martin Shkreli and his price-hiking of Daraprim, a drug used by HIV/AIDS patients as well as those dealing with transplants, malaria, and a type of parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis.

If you have HIV/AIDS – or are a loved one/caregiver of someone who does – here are some important links for you:

Please visit this site to find a testing location near you or talk to your doctor.

To learn more about HIV, AIDS, and treatments:

Episode 3 of the podcast is up!

This week’s episode of the podcast is now up!

Check out our page on SoundCloud or iTunes to listen.

This week, we are talking with DJ D-REK AKA Derek Canas. Derek had a heart condition as a child and received blood transfusions at three months old while getting treatment for that. However, this was before HIV/AIDS screening in blood transfusions. Derek became HIV positive. He wouldn’t receive a diagnosis until over a decade later. Today, we talk with him to learn more about his story and what he does to help others with HIV and AIDS. Derek started the #EndTheStigma campaign.

To learn more about this campaign and Derek, please head to www.facebook.com/EndTheStigma912.