For Matthew Shepard and his family

*I originally published this post on The Huffington Post on June 18, 2014.

I wrote and read this piece on June 3, right before a special performance of The Laramie Project that I co-produced with the U.S. Embassy and the Matthew Shepard Foundation at Mexico City’s Teatro Milán.

funeral de matthew2At the end of my first year in college, just when I began to come out to my family and friends, I read about a young man in the United States, Matthew Shepard, who had been brutally murdered for being gay. This shocked me for many reasons — first, because I identified with a few of Matthew’s traits: My age at that time was almost the same as his when he was killed. We were both university students studying international relations. We both enjoyed traveling and learning new languages. We were both gay.

But what caught my attention the most was the fact that he was a regular guy. Matthew was not a famous activist whose work made someone in power feel uncomfortable. He was not a politician getting in the way of another. Matthew was just at the wrong spot at the wrong time with the wrong people. This terrified me.

A couple of years after that, I was living in New York, and I met Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mom and the co-founder of the organization named after him. Judy spoke at the city’s LGBT Community Center. At the end of the event, I came up to say hello, mentioned how much I admired her work, and asked her a couple of questions. Judy gave me a purple plastic bracelet that I have worn every day since then, for five years now. It has two simple but very strong words on it: “ERASE HATE.”

The hate that took her son away. The hate that ended Matthew’s life in 1998 in Wyoming, Brandon Teena’s in 1993 in Nebraska, Daniel Zamudio’s in 2012 in Santiago, Agnes Torres’ in 2012 in Puebla, and the list goes on. The same hate that ends relationships between friends because of one’s sexual orientation, or between a mother and her transgender daughter because the mother doesn’t understand her daughter’s identity.

The message sent by people like Matthew’s murderers (and everyone else’s) is that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is wrong. It is a problem. It is dangerous. It’s best to get rid of them. Alarming, right? Far from the promises of campaigns like It Gets Better, for people like Matthew and many more it actually got worse.

The amazing thing is that, 16 years after that episode, and thanks to the work of many, many people, Matthew is still “alive.” His story and the story of the small town that knew him keep traveling, moving hearts and minds, inspiring playwrights, filling theaters around the world, pushing laws forward against discrimination, driving young men and women to promote respect for diversity.

Today I celebrate that Matthew’s life did not end for nothing. If he, a 21-year-old, ordinary student, is here tonight and has made us come and know his story, we now have the task of erasing that hate and replacing it with respect and understanding.


El Proyecto Laramie: para Matthew y su familia

Comparto algo que escribí para leer anoche en el Teatro Milán en la función especial de El Proyecto Laramie que produjimos Rodrigo Salazar y yo con la Embajada de Estados Unidos y la Fundación Matthew Shepard:

Al final de mi primer año en la universidad, justo cuando empezaba a salir del clóset con mi familia y mis amigos, leí sobre un joven en Estados Unidos, Matthew Shepard, que había sido brutalmente asesinado por ser homosexual. Esto me impactó por varias razones. Primero, porque había varias características de Matthew con las que yo me identificaba: mi edad en ese momento y la suya cuando fue asesinado eran casi la misma, ambos estudiamos Relaciones Internacionales en la universidad, ambos disfrutábamos viajar y aprender nuevos idiomas, ambos nos identificábamos como gays.

Pero lo que más me llamó la atención fue que Matthew era un chavo como cualquier otro. Matthew no era un activista reconocido cuyo trabajo incomodara a alguien en una posición de poder, o alguien involucrado en narcotráfico que se hubiera “buscado” que lo mataran, o un político que se estuviera atravesando en el camino de otro. Matthew sólo estuvo en el lugar equivocado, a la hora equivocada, con las personas equivocadas. Esto me aterró.

Un par de años después, viviendo en Nueva York, conocí a Judy Shepard, mamá de Matthew y co-fundadora de la organización que lleva su nombre. Judy dio una conferencia en el Centro Comunitario LGBT de la ciudad. Al final, me acerqué a saludarla, decirle que admiraba mucho su trabajo y hacerle un par de preguntas. Judy me regaló esta pulsera morada de plástico que no me he quitado desde ese día, desde hace 5 años, y que tiene dos palabras sencillas pero contundentes: ERASE HATE. Borrar el odio.

Erase Hate braceletEse odio que le quitó a su hijo. El odio que acabó con la vida de Matthew en 1998 en Wyoming, Brandon Teena en 1993 en Nebraska, Daniel Zamudio en 2012 en Santiago, Agnes Torres en 2012 en Puebla. Y la lista continúa. El odio que también acaba con relaciones entre amigos por la orientación sexual de uno de ellos, o entre una mamá y su hija transgénero por no entender su identidad.

El mensaje que mandan personas como los asesinos de Matthew y de todos los demás es que ser gay, lesbiana, bisexual o transgénero está mal. Es un problema. Es peligroso. Es mejor acabar con ellos. Alarmante, ¿no? A diferencia de lo que prometen campañas como It gets better o Todo Mejora, para personas como Matthew y tantos más las cosas no mejoraron.

Lo increíble es que, 16 años después de ese episodio y gracias al trabajo de mucha, mucha gente, Matthew sigue vivo. Su historia y la del pueblo que lo conoció siguen viajando, siguen conmoviendo, siguen inspirando textos de teatro, llenando salas por todo el mundo, impulsando leyes en contra de la discriminación, motivando a jóvenes a promover respeto a la diversidad sexual y a la diversidad de ideas.

Hoy celebramos que la vida de Matthew no haya sido en vano. Si él, un joven estudiante de 21 años común y corriente, ha llegado hoy hasta la Ciudad de México y ha hecho que vengamos a conocer su historia, también nosotros tenemos ahora la tarea de borrar ese odio y remplazarlo con comprensión y respeto.

“I do,” said New York

In the past five years New York has been a place of much growth for me. Not just Nuevallorrrr (as New York City is known around here), but New York State: I spent a summer working upstate and started to come out right there, between mountains. No cell phone reception and everything. Then I interned at a state government agency and saw Albany (the capital) and a couple of other places.

New York is where I first fell in love (or something of that sort). It’s where I learned there was such a thing as an LGBT community center, attended my first political rally and gay pride march. Where I started to discover and passionately go after my goals.

New York is where I’ve seen some of my most admired artists, met some of my most respected leaders, made some of my best friends, danced at some of my highest-assessed parties, taken some of my favorite photographs, and had some of my favorite food.

New York is where I became bold enough to come up and talk to anyone, to knock on whichever door I want to open, to try anything and know I can actually do it. New York is also where I learned you should not lobby a member of the senate without removing your eyebrow piercing.

That is why it makes me oh-so-happy that, since yesterday, New York has recognized lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people as first-class citizens, becoming the sixth and largest state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. I wouldn’t say New York is where it all began (not sure that we can say that about any place), but it is definitely the place where a large chunk of rights for LGBTs began to be fought for. So, for this to happen is only fair and right.

New York has again said yes to equality and no to discrimination. New York finally put its foot down and said “I do“. And this post is me joining the celebration. :)