20 Years After

Matthew Shepard’s Murder in Laramie, Wyoming

by guest contributor, Jess Fahlsing*

Jess Fahlsing with their mom,
Sue Fahlsing.

“Love you.”

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.”

Judy Shepard

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.

Jess Fahlsing

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.

“Love you.”

And she will send it back.

Jess and their sister Anna (left) and mom, Sue, (right).

. . .

Take Action!

Attend the next Shepard Symposium on Social Justice April 10-13, 2019. All are welcome.

Read about Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents I admire deeply in life.

If you’re curious about the use of the singular personal pronoun “they,” take a look at this post: “Take Two: Why the Singular, Non-Binary ‘They’ Pronoun is Darned Difficult to Master.”

.  .  .

* 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

Wyoming Refugee Resettlement Plan Written by University Student for Only State Without One

“. . . Wyoming is the single state in the U.S. without a Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) filed with the federal government.”

Gabe Selting wrote his senior honors thesis as a “How To” plan for Wyoming to initiate a Refugee Resettlement Plan.

So begins Gabe Selting’s 2018 honors senior thesis from the University of Wyoming, “Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-to Guide.”

Selting says social justice addresses “equal access to opportunity.”

Yet his own interests are broader.

They extend to equal access to opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.

And this fall his already passionate life takes a step forward as he begins law school in Washington, DC.

His interest in social justice and service began when he was 16 years old.

He was living in London with time on his hands while his parents, both professors at the University of Wyoming, were on sabattical.

During this time he thought, and he struggled.

“The ultimate question was, ‘What is my personal interpretation of happiness, and how can I get there?’”

The answer came as a question.

“What is my ability to impact others in a meaningful way? How can I have a positive impact?”

Resettlement Plan Began with Education

As an International Studies undergraduate, Selting expanded his lens on the world.

He studied and volunteered in multiple countries.

And those experiences gave him perspective on Wyoming’s role in global issues.

As well as Wyoming’s role in the refugee conversation.

“All around Wyoming there’s affordable housing, low-skill jobs, and open spaces so you’re not forced to live next to others’ religions, if you don’t want to,” he said.

“By not having a Refugee Resettlement Plan, what message are we sending to Washington and to the United Nation’s High Commission on Refugees?

“It takes 50 links to make this work,” he said. “and one doesn’t exist – Wyoming.”

The website of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is clear.

Refugees are given, “the opportunity to achieve their full potential . . .”

The U.S. Government along with individual states and organizations offer a hand up with “critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society.”

“It takes 50 links to make this work, and one doesn’t exist — Wyoming.”

Refugees are Free to Move Into Wyoming

Because there are no cross-state entry restrictions, once refugees have been permitted to enter the country, Selting says they can go where they like.

“Former refugees are making their way to Wyoming, whether people like it or not.”

Yet without a RRP Selting says, “those who arrive here don’t have access to key services.”

Selting thinks that state’s resistance stems from fears for safety and economic security.

“It’s so much more dangerous to not have a refugee infrastructure program then to have one,” he said.

“There’s a huge body of literature showing that extremism often comes in the form of social and economic alienation.

“We need to have systems for people to integrate into; to combat social isolation.

“Wyoming has the capacity to help and accept refugees,” he said.

And thanks to this recent grad’s persistence, Wyoming’s “How To” is ready to go.

Take Action!

•  Read Gabe’s thesis, Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-To Guide.

•  Learn about the Immigration Alliance of Casper.

•  Check out the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

•  Read Gillette Against Hate. 

•  Read Where refugees go in America,” from the Washington Post.

•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

 

Bright pink states are the worst for welcoming refugees. Bright green are the best.