Some friends and I were cruising around Joplin, Missouri during a blizzard in my friend M'Lou's Trans Am. I rode shotgun and Scott, whom I'd met during grade school when he came to my house and asked to play on my slide, a giant playground slide my father had rescued from an abandoned elementary school before such dangerous toys were deemed unsafe. Scott and I had remained friends throughout high school, but I hadn't seen him since graduation, eight months earlier.
That evening the conversation prompted Scott to "come out" to me. Stupidly, I took the ridiculous "love the sinner but hate the sin" rhetorical path. I haven't seen or heard from Scott since. Yet that night is the tipping point in my paradigm shift to acceptance of LGBTs.
Many years and countless students later, a tragic event that arguably is the tipping point for our national paradigm shift in attitude toward gay people transpired: Matthew Shepard was beaten and abandoned by two men in Laramie, Wyoming and left strapped to a fence to die on October 6, 1998.
It's Matthew's tragic death that Lesléa Newman commemorates in October Morning, a series of poems from various points of view imagining Shepard's final hours and the aftermath of his death. Newman makes a strong point of saying the poems are works of her imagination and not actual comments from those involved.
Having driven the lonely roads of Wyoming adds verisimilitude to Newman's work for those living in remote corners of the intermountain West, a point Newman acknowledges in the "Afterword": "To this native New Yorker, the vast empty spaces were terrifying It was easy to see how a young man who had been beaten unconscious and left to die lashed to a fence could remain undiscovered for eighteen hours" (88).
Certainly, geography can create cold, lonely places, but geography can't begin to compare to the isolation we humans construct against one another with our refusal to accept, to tolerate, to love. The original Wyoming fence on which Matthew Shepard was strapped ad left for dead no longer exists, but we do need more bridges that connect and bind us together.