Coming Out

Being Gay In A Post-Matthew Shepard Wyoming

by Ness Cleary

We as human beings are constantly seeking our life story while sometimes comparing ours to others.

This is my story.

I speak on my own behalf, not for all the LGBT people in my state. I live in the big open space called Wyoming, from the small town of Lander. The youngest and only girl of three children, as a child, I was sheltered and protected from anything my parents felt was threatening to my soul. And still, I remember the events from October 7, 1998, when Matthew Shepard was killed while being hung from a fence.

I was nine years old at the time and did not understand the whole story at the time, being as young as I was, but I remember the sadness I felt for him and his family. Everyone seemed to know the young man’s name, but instead of just saying his name, they seemed to always couple a word in front of it—”The gay Matthew Shepard.”

And if that were not enough description, people would then say, “the gay guy who got hung on the fence.” Even at this point, I had no clue what most of it had meant. I recall not liking how they labeled him without knowing his whole story. Though many others had prior positive memories of him, it was his being gay and being hung on a fence that became the glamour of news.

As I got a bit older, I became best friends with Matthew Shepard’s cousin.

We had many sittings next to each other on the bus on our way to school. We talked about what little kids usually talk about—playing, drawing, and school. I remember one day I asked her about her cousin. I could see her eyes water up and her words tremble. I don’t remember much of the conversation now, but I recall being touched by her reaction—she loved her cousin dearly and missed him very much.

Around the same time, my cousin was forced to come out of the closet. My family did not know how to react to the news, which resulted in nasty comments being said. Even then, I couldn’t figure out why everyone was upset about it. “Why can’t two people be in love?” I remember once asking. I was told it was a sin.

As kids, we were taught that love is love and hate is hate. So how is it bad to love someone, but be good to hate someone for their sexual orientation? This was a question I have held onto for many years.

As time passed, the confusion of that question became harder to understand.

While I would hear of crimes like law enforcement stealing drugs from the evidence room for their own use, it seemed to always be swept under the rug for the focus to be put back on LGBT people as immoral people. By this time, I considered myself sexually “confused.” I started to question my sexual identity and what that would mean for my life.

Fast forward to two summers ago when I met the most amazing woman ever. Her name was Stephanie, and she provided me the motivation I needed to come out. When I came out as gay, my family was in an uproar. I was told it was only a phase and soon I would realize it. I lost many friends—friends I had since kindergarten—who later went around town saying unspeakable hateful words about me.

Around this time, Stephanie and I entered a relationship that both her mother and mine asked to keep private. Both of us, being mamma’s girls, decided to keep their wish—only close friends and family knew that we really were not just roommates. Stephanie and I both know why our mothers asked this of us.

The fear of Matthew Shepard’s outcome is a chance we all take being in same-sex relationships among straights in Wyoming.

Here in Wyoming is the closest you will get to the remaining Wild West. People still have guns next to their beds, dogs at their door, and strong beliefs. People do not take kindly to being misguided, misled, lied to, and/or betrayed here. Sometimes they do not get the whole truth until they have already done their revenge.

So, for my girlfriend and I, keeping our relationship secret is sometimes the best policy. And yet still, it feels like a burn within knowing that I have to keep my love a secret trapped inside. It’s like I have one foot out of the closet with the rest of me within. Halfway being true to myself, and the other half lying to society. I fight this issue daily.

The friends who have stayed by my side are just as confused to my half masked lifestyle. They believe I should scream it from the tallest building for the world. But what they don’t understand is the hate that comes with sharing it—the dirty stares, the harsh comments, and the discrimination. When I tell them this, they always ask why I don’t move away. But my response never changes:

“This is my home. I will not abandon my home.”

My worry is about putting my family in fear for my life. I do not want my mother to consistently worry that she will get a phone call saying I was found hurt or in danger. Being gay and living in Wyoming has been the hardest thing I have ever faced in my life. I have had a few family members pave the road for my way of love that has made the journey easier, but it is still a tough battle.

Though my friends want to help make Wyoming an LGBT-friendly place, I still ask them to not put me in harm’s way with speaking of my love life.

I don’t believe this issue will ever be fixed in my lifetime, but I do hope and pray there will be no separation of love in my future bloodlines generations. My town, Lander, had its first Pride Picnic this summer. I was terrified and excited to go, but over 250 people showed up—more than I could have ever asked for. It was my first ever Pride event, and I was glad to see it in my own town. Knowing that the town that once pushed the gays out is now supporting them was completely amazing.

The trail to freedom has never been easy, but it is possible.

The road is becoming clear and more manageable. Many of us in the LGBT community call Wyoming home, and we do not wish to leave. Slowly, but surely, we are getting closer to winning our freedom of love.

And it all started with one incredible man: Matthew Shepard.

Photo via flckr user Vicki Ashton