Pride Tree decorations
I first heard the term, “gay,” when I was in grade school. My peers flung it at one another on the playground as insults. Maybe I did too. I usually wasn’t mean, but I don’t remember. I liked fitting in.
In 1997 I went to college at Iowa State. I remember vividly sitting with my friends in the cafeteria as they razzed each other about being gay or told jokes about the LGBTQ community. While I didn’t tell them myself, I wanted to fit in, and I laughed along.
The next year, Matthew Shepherd was brutally beaten, tied to a fencepost, and left for dead under a blanket of stars in Laramie, Wyoming. Iowa State held a candlelight vigil that I just happened upon while walking across campus. I saw students holding hands, weeping, hugging, and praying. I stood alone on the sidelines watching a community in pain. I thought about the fear they may have been feeling. I thought about Matthew’s fear and loneliness in those last moments. I thought about the jokes I had laughed at. I was really uncomfortable, but it was important in that moment to sit in that discomfort. I needed it to grow.
I realized right then that Matthew died at the hands of angry people whose violence was bolstered by those who told oppressive jokes. The joke-tellers were bolstered by those of us laughing, and those of us laughing were bolstered by the people who knew better but kept silent. We all played our part in lifting up this toxic culture that led to Matthew’s murder, and the realization felt awful. I chose to take the opportunity and grow.
Now I’m doing my best to stand up for people who are marginalized. I try to create a loving, accepting community. I want people to feel safe in our city. I want people to feel loved. I want people to feel they are not alone. That’s why I participated in the Pride Tree decorations in Spencer. I was thrilled to be able to spread love in a peaceful way. Still, some in the community took the passive act of love and support as a personal affront.
Jerry Crew's opinions are not unique. I had them myself when I was young, but when faced with opportunities to broaden my perspective and my heart, I chose to do just that. I’m hoping that someday Jerry, and others in town who share the opinions he expressed in his letter, will experience something that opens their minds and hearts a little more to the world around them, too. I hope they’ll take the learning experiences that life offers and choose to grow, rather than to draw inward and become angry and resentful that the world is changing without them.
— Amanda Green, Spencer