Whenever I go biking out east of Laramie, I send my mom that text.
Fortunately, it’s not uncommon for me to text her that. We have a pretty good relationship, so she doesn’t always know why I text her, “Love you.”
I do it after biking, because I remember Judy Shepard’s words, quoted by Rulon Stacey in a press release after Matthew Shepard died.
“Go home, give your kids a hug, and don’t let a day go by without telling them that you love them.”
I’ve flipped those words around so that, whenever I go biking into the land where Matthew was taken, beaten, and left to die tied to a fence, I text my mom and tell her I love her.
I can make it back home. Matt never can.
“Go home, give your kids a hug, and don’t let a day go by without telling them that you love them.”
Growing Up in Rock Springs, Wyoming
I grew up in Rock Springs, Wyoming, mountain biking in the desert. It was a place where there was no visible queer community. No clubs at the high school. Very few queer role models out in the town. I did have a trans friend, but they faced extreme violence in that town.
I love the land there. My heart yearns to go back.
You can’t change who or what you love.
Yet there are some things you can’t make it back from. That you cannot return to.
I don’t know that I will return to Rock Springs to live long-term. But I do know that Laramie has given me a lot. Laramie PrideFest, founded by Robert West, gave me the space to find a queer community here after I started openly identifying as lesbian at age 21. It gave me the space to honor what activists before me have given up, and to remember Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, transwomen of color who were key in the Stonewall Riots.
. . . whenever I go biking into the land where Matthew was taken, beaten, and left to die tied to a fence, I text my mom and tell her I love her.
Shepard Symposium on Social Justice
In Laramie, the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice [hosted by the University of Wyoming each year in April] gave me a family. They are my family. That is actually how Ellen and I met.
Through the Shepard Symposium, I had the honor to co-chair the Matthew Shepard Memorial Group with Dr. Emily Monago, Chief Officer of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As part of the Memorial, we put banners for Matthew on the University Union.
“That wouldn’t have been possible even 10 years ago, when I was here for grad school,” a friend told me, who was visiting Laramie the same time as the Memorial.
[Rock Springs] was a place without a visible queer community. No clubs at the high school. Very few queer role models out in the town.
So there is good change. There is love. There is the text that I can keep sending my mom.
* Jess Fahlsing is a senior at the University of Wyoming. They are dual majoring in Psychology and Gender and Women’s Studies with minors in Queer Studies, Honors, and Creative Writing. What’s important to know when reading this love letter is that 20 years ago Matthew Shepard was also a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie when he was murdered in a hate crime for being gay.
I am privileged to know Jess and grateful for their contribution to this blog. I look forward to following their career which surely will expand social justice and human rights in ways that have yet to be revelaed. — Ellen
Ellen is a native of northern Maine. Her interest in getting to know Wyoming focuses on ways people and organizations help and protect individuals, wildlife, beauty, and rights. She is a HeartMath® trainer and coach, a Connection Practice trainer and coach, and a biodynamic craniosacral therapist. Her website is: EllenSynakowski.com and her email is EllenSynakowski@icloud.com.
“Remember that justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West
Holocaust survivor, Gerda Weissmann Klein said, “Pain should not be wasted.”
And I am deeply grateful to three parents who live that wisdom.
Karen Ball began the Sturge-Weber Foundation when her daughter, Kaelin, was born with Sturge-Weber Syndrome accompanied by a significant facial port wine stain.
Because this Foundation was there when my son, Byron, was born with the same syndrome, we were not alone.
Karen continues to blaze trail after medical trail in service to others.
The Shepards of Casper, Wyoming
And then there are the Shepards.
Their son, Matthew, was murdered 20 years ago this month.
It was a hate crime for being gay.
Judy channeled her anger and pain and created good: The Matthew Shepard Foundation.
And for two decades, she and her gentle husband, Dennis, have traveled the country and the world erasing hate, promoting tolerance, and heralding human rights for all.
“This is not about courage or some higher calling; This is what happens when you piss off a mother.” – Judy Shepard
We spent this week-end in their presence.
On October 26, 2018 at 10 a.m., a public celebration of Matthew’s life will precede his interment at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.
His remains are still not safe in Wyoming.
And that is unimaginable.
The Shepards model both public anguish and resilience as they counter the injustice of Matthew’s death.
And though their service to humanity cannot be measured, award after award attempts to quantify the shift their work is creating.
As Judy said during the Shepard Symposium for Social Justice in Laramie last spring, “This is not about courage or some higher calling; This is what happens when you piss off a mother.”
And for me, a mother still fighting for me children — sometimes out of fear, occasionally from anger, and mostly out of love — I spill tears every time I’m close to the energy that swirls like tornados around Judy and Dennis.
Because beyond the LGBTQ community, the work they do emphasizes justice for all human life on the planet.
“Pain should not be wasted.”
And for Judy and Dennis and Karen it hasn’t been.
• • •
An excerpt from Dennis Shepard’s trial statement:
“You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone . . . First, he had the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope. Then, he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time — one more cool, wonderful autumn day in Wyoming . . . And through it all he was breathing in for the last time the smell of Wyoming sagebrush and the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind — the ever-present Wyoming wind — for the last time. He had one more friend with him. He had God.
Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is EllenSynakowski.com. She is a Registered Craniosacral Therapist (RCST), is on the Board of Directors of the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA), and has been practicing Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy since 2013.
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” — C. West
The faces of Cambodian survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation compelled her to action.
Twelve years ago Ruth Williams had just moved to Laramie. “I was sitting in a salon and saw a picture of a rescued child.”
“’Her eyes pierced me . . . I couldn’t forget her,” she said.
Within 24 hours she had emailed and heard back from Somany Mam, the woman from the article responsible for saving 6,000+ children.
And so began Williams’ journey to support young girls through her nonprofit organization, Heart Mothers.
It’s a story of frequent trips to Cambodia, fund-raising to help sustain Mam’s Center that’s home to 62 girls as young as 14 months, and enlisting the help of nearly 90 women to write letters, send gifts and bring hope to children with few life options.
“Social justice is protecting somebody’s dignity,” Ruth said. “And yet there’s so much injustice in the world.”
“Nothing will change until people realize that
pornography is epidemic.”
According to Equality Now, an activism group working to protect women’s rights around the world, trafficking is a $99 billion business and the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Ninety-six percent of its victims are women and girls.13
Ruth says the underlying issues are poverty14 and the way we view pornography and women.
Asked how this problem will end, Ruth said, “I don’t think it will.”
“Nothing will change until people realize that pornography is epidemic,” she said.
Yet the girls themselves bring her hope. “They are happy, confident, loving, amazing young women who have been through hell and back,” she said.
Financial support for Heart Mothers comes from donations and profits from thousands of Sugar Mouse Cupcakes made by Ruth and sold at Laramie’s Farmer’s Market each summer.
Bullying and isolation are really two sides of the same coin.
Liza Thomas was in fourth grade when she brought a beer to school in her lunch box. As you might expect, all hell broke loose.
When isolation is used to bully
As a third grader I stood by and witnessed the cruelty that met her each day. On one extreme was the merciless taunting she had to endure, and when attention swung in the other direction she was socially isolated.
I wish I had a single memory of walking up to her and saying “hello” or “want to swing at recess?” but I don’t.
Sometimes I alter the images of her battling these injustices all alone and imagine her fists softening and a hint of a smile appearing. This older me wishes I’d been able to give her a moment’s peace at school.
Liza Thomas and Alvin before her are two of the reasons I created this blog.
The courage to take risks
I want to meet people around the state of Wyoming who have the clarity of mind to know what they believe in, work hard to correct what they see may be headed in the wrong direction, and have the courage to take risks in ways I never did with Liza.
This blog will be looking at these and more topics:
• aging • animals • bullying
• care of the planet • crime • disability
• education • race • healthcare
• environment • domestic violence • fire arms
• free speech • gender • human trafficking
• immigration • income disparity • LBGTQIA+
• laws • opioids • politicking
• poverty • native Americans • water and land
• children in foster and alternative care
• loneliness and isolation
Please email me with names of organizations and people working for justice in Wyoming.