By Gary Barlow
Staff writer - 10/10/2007 Chicago Free Press - LINK
Several hundred people took a message of equality, freedom and non-violence through the streets of Boystown and Wrigleyville Oct. 6 as part of the ninth annual Matthew Shepard March and Rally.
Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev led the march after exhorting the crowd gathered at Halsted and Roscoe to work to build a global network of activists committed to human rights for all.
“Yes, I remember when Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998,” Alexeyev said. “I think almost every gay, lesbian and transgender person who heard about it thought, ‘It could be me.’”
Alexeyev was one of a number of speakers at the annual event sponsored by the Gay Liberation Network to commemorate Shepard’s death nine years ago. The Wyoming college freshman’s brutal slaying at the hands of anti-gay attackers shocked the nation and the world.
“Matthew Shepard was killed in the United States but similar horrific crimes happen all around the world,” Alexeyev said. “We need to be united in our solidarity internationally in order to win our freedom and equality.”
GLN brought Alexeyev to Chicago last week for a series of events that were his first appearances in the United States. Alexeyev has emerged in recent years as Russia’s most well known gay activist, creating a heavily used website at gayrussia.ru and braving arrests to stage gay Pride events in Moscow.
“We were 50 people at the first (Moscow) Pride Parade and 150 at the last one,” Alexeyev said. “It may seem a very small number, but, believe me, to find 150 people who will come out on the streets when they know they will be assaulted by the fascists and the police is quite an accomplishment.”
Other speakers at the rally included the Rev. Liz Steadman, an Episcopal priest who serves as a chaplain at Northwestern University. Steadman talked about the growing split between the Episcopal Church in the United States and other Anglican churches overseas that reject Episcopalians’ welcoming policies toward gays and lesbians.
“Now this idea may make the religious right nuts…but there is a very real sense in which our community struggles to put God first all the time,” Steadman said. “I think that when you treat yourselves and others with respect and dignity you are witnessing to God’s love in the world.”
Other speakers spoke to more local concerns.
“While we’re here to talk about this horrible thing that happened to Matthew Shepard, we never talk about the three or four or five people who are killed around Jackson Park Lagoon every summer,” said Let’s Talk, Let’s Test Executive Director Lloyd Kelly.
Kelly urged the crowd to honor Shepard’s memory “365 days a year” by confronting inequality wherever it exists, especially within Chicago’s own GLBT community.
“When we see the little black gay boys harassed on Halsted Street, let’s think about Matthew Shepard,” Kelly said.
Attorney Dana Kurtz also discussed three lesbians she’s representing in a lawsuit alleging misconduct by Chicago police and Illinois state troopers. Other speakers spoke about the connection between various progressive issues, including bringing an end to the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
“We need to start doing something about this war,” said GLN’s Andy Thayer. “Now you cannot support a war to the tune of $150 billion…and have free healthcare and have any number of other services that our community and other communities in this country need.”
Following the rally the march took its usual route down Halsted to Belmont, then north on Clark Street to Wrigley Field, east on Addison and then back down Halsted to Roscoe. This year’s march ran into thousands of Cubs fans who had just exited Wrigley Field following a playoff game. Despite that unanticipated potential conflict, police and organizers helped ensure that the march proceeded without incident.