The life and death of Matthew Shepard was commemorated at St. Andrews Episcopal Church Saturday evening.
The Emporia State University Tallgrass Chamber Choir performed, “Considering Matthew Shepard,” a number of poems written by Leslea Newman and set to music.
Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old gay college student who was kidnapped by two men and taken to the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. The men tied him to a fence and beat him. Shepard hung there for 18 hours before being found, dying five days later.
His family and friends have kept his memory and experience alive to help encourage understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. The musical performance gave attendees an inside glimpse into Shepard’s life, sharing snippets from his journals, and also another view of his death, sharing news clips and thoughts from friends and family.
The sold-out performance resonated with attendees, some leaving the performance emotional and reflective.
“For me it was emotional, more emotional than I thought it would be,” Morgan Mason of Emporia said. “I was 18 when Matthew Shepard was killed and I remember being horrified and saddened. So many years have passed now, but it still felt raw and sad. I think about his family and how they have tried to make changes in his name and it’s wonderful they have done that. But I couldn’t help but think who Matthew would have grown into. Who would he have become if this hadn’t happened to him?”
Dan Curtis of Ottawa attended the performance with two close friends. The men expressed how thankful they were to both Emporia State University and St. Andrews for having the event. They said, in their experience as gay men, they were thankful for a performance focused on supporting the LGBTQ community.
“It has been just over 20 years since Matt was killed,” Curtis said. “Some things have changed. You never would have seen a performance supporting our community 20 years ago in the Midwest. Yet, some things are still the same. There is still so much hatred, so much misunderstanding for our community. It was brave of the church and school to take this on. Any time we have a chance to start a conversation about Matt and about tolerance and acceptance, it is a good thing.”
Shelly Riggs of north Lyon County was “blown away” by the talent the students showed with the performance. She said it was moving and powerful.
“The performance by the students was amazing,” Riggs said. “I was blown away by the talent of these young people. These were not easy pieces. The skill they showed musically was impressive, especially given the emotional and challenging topic.”
The performance sold out quickly, leading organizers to open dress rehearsal up for community members to attend.