Friday, 12 October 2012

A Moment for Matthew and Amanda

This isn't disability-related, but I think that it's a story that needs telling. I thought about it immediately when I heard the story about the physically disabled young man in Newfoundland that was lured into the forest and assaulted. I'd forgotten, however, how close to the anniversary of Matthew Shepard's assault and death and hospital five days later that we actually were.

Do You Remember Where You Were When You Heard That Matthew Shepard Died?

I do. It was fourteen years ago, when I was a freshman in university. I was in my room in the dormitory (we call them "residences" in Canada), working on an essay. The radio was on. I heard the story that Matthew Shepard had died in the hospital, and my heart dropped into my stomach.

I'd been following the story all week, ever since I'd heard that the 22-year-old Wyoming University student had been found burned, pistol-whipped, tied to a fence, and suffering from exposure to cold temperatures for 18 hours. The story had hit close to home because it was suspected that Matthew Shepard's attackers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, had targeted him because he was openly gay. Being raised in a small town where several friends had struggled with the decision to come out, and seeing what some of them had faced once they did, I knew that Matthew Shepard's decision to be openly gay in the small town of Laramie, Wyoming was potentially risky. But it had never occurred to my young, naive self that someone might actually kill another person over their sexuality.

It scared the crap out of me, and filled me with a sadness that that I couldn't express. And I still get those feelings every year, on the anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death - the day that my belief in the world as a safe place for people who are different died too.

I wish that I could say that I've had a thousand experiences since then that have gone a long way to convince me that the world is safe for people that the world labels "different" - for LGBTT people, for people in racial minorities, for people with disabilities - but I haven't. Quite the contrary, actually. I'm hearing more and more stories that make me sad and angry, such as the fact that disability hate crime is up significantly in Britain since Welfare Benefit reform came in.

Amanda Todd: We're Failing Our Children

In Canada, British Columbia teen Amanda Todd took her own life this week, just weeks after posting what only can be described as a cry for help on YouTube several weeks ago. In the video she uses homemade flashcards to document how she was bullied to the point of physical assault at her school, and then cyberbullied once she changed schools. She was just 15.

Amanda Todd was just a teen that made some poor choices. She was being punished enough by the consequences of those choices without her peers jumping in not only to judge, but to encourage her to commit suicide. That sort of bullying behaviour is deplorable - and the fact that it went as far as it did without someone in authority doing something about it is deplorable as well.

How can we make sure that stories like Matthew Shepard's and Amanda Todd's are not repeated?


  1. Yes, we are failing our children! I was a junior-senior (7-12) Principal in a school of 900 kids for 30 years. We kill our children and here is what I saw: (1) kids learn the worst of bullying behavior from their parents, (2) parents will either defend or condone bullying behavior (you know the shit about boys will be be boys and cliques among girls, etc); (3) despite policies to the contrary, teachers will often turn a blind eye because victims aren't popular like many bullies; (4) and most important, victims/targets have NO allies, no one speak for or defend them.. Also, our politicians and leaders exhibit the worse of bullying by warring upon peoples and nations. The essential sickness in schools is a code of secrecy...the worst sin is to be a "narc." Telling is automatic marginalization. Kids die, kill themselves and afterwords "no one knows nothing, no one saw anything.. It's a sad and fucked up situation akin to the marginalization of the disabled people. Sorry for the rant, it's a sore spot with me.

  2. No need to apologize, Phil. I'm glad that someone picked up on why I commented on these two stories in the same post, because it seemed to me that there were connections between the two of them as well - the systemic violence against "undesirables", and how society only starts caring once it's too late. Your observations as someone who obviously and unfortunately would have seen a great deal of bullying among students match what I've read about bullying and seen firsthand, as a student and later as someone that worked within the school system. We've had several students take their own lives because of bullying in Canada in the last few years.

    And despite what happened to Matthew Shepard, I can think of at least two more young men murdered because of their sexual orientation since the year 2000...another in America, one in the UK (which I wrote about last year). I'm sure there were more that I didn't hear about.

    It's all very disheartening. I did hear today, however, that they're looking at laying charges against some of the students who were bullying Amanda Todd. It won't bring her back, though. Too little, too late...