The Whole World Was Watching: Living in the Light of Matthew Shepard

Matthew in the Sand


On the evening of Thursday, October 8, 1998, 20-year-old Romaine Patterson received a phone call that her best friend, Matthew Shepard, had been beaten and left hanging on a split-rail fence outside Laramie, Wyo. Romaine was then thrust to the center of the worldwide media frenzy that descended on Laramie, and she came face-to-face with twisted homophobia when Baptist minister Fred Phelps and his followers picketed Matthew's funeral with signs reading "Matt burns in hell." Upon learning of Phelps's plan to bring his ministry of hate to support Matt's killers at their trial, Romaine went into action. Who can forget the image of Romaine and her friends donning seven-foot angel wings so they could encircle Phelps and his gang, leaving the picketers silent and invisible? From that moment forward, Patterson has become a spokesperson for tolerance, acceptance, and nonviolence around the globe, whether as a founder of Angel Action, as a consultant for The Laramie Project (the award-winning play that has been produced hundreds of times and became an acclaimed Showtime film starring Christina Ricci as Patterson). In one of their last conversations, Matt told Romaine that he wanted to spend his life helping people realize that they as individuals could make a difference in the world. This is Romaine Patterson's journey to realizing the truth of that statement.

Wyoming native, Romaine Patterson got started in activism when her close friend Matthew Shepard was killed. In April of 1999, she founded the Angel Action, an organization for peaceful demonstration. Angel Action is now used all over the world as a means of combating hate. She has also served as a Regional Media Manager for TheGay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). She continues her work educating youth about hate crimes and has lectured at The University of Wyoming, Georgetown University, Penn State, and others. She curently lives in Brooklyn.


Kirkus Reviews
What happens when your best friend is brutally murdered and you find yourself in the limelight? After Matthew Shepard was beaten to death in 1998 by two homophobic men, Patterson, an articulate young woman who could put a personal face on his tragic story, became a media darling. Her memoir opens with a description of her childhood in Wyoming. She was a tomboy who came out as a lesbian in high school; her gay brother eventually died of AIDS. She met Shepard during her freshman year at college, and they became boon companions. After his death, Patterson blossomed into a forceful and sought-after gay-rights activist; she's best remembered for standing up to hatemonger Fred Phelps, who picketed Shepard's memorial service with placards saying, "God Hates Fags." In this seamless autobiography (kudos to co-writer Hinds for helping to craft a remarkably smooth text), Patterson refuses to sugarcoat or propagandize. The Matt Shepard she describes was prone to depression and laziness. Revealing the chinks in her friend's armor doesn't detract from the impact of the story-quite the opposite. Patterson's assessment of the activist community is similarly nuanced and unsentimental. After Shepard's death, she took a job with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). She lauds the organization for its tireless work, but also suggests that she sometimes felt exploited like a "trophy or prop . . . before any interview I would always be coached to open with something about Matthew." Eventually, Patterson left GLAAD, returned to school and began co-hosting a radio show; she thinks of herself as "a sort of lesbian Howard Stern." She concludes her memoir with the exhortation, "Do your part. Make the world a better place." Indeed, the book itself is a piece of activism, and readers will not put it down unchanged. Evenhanded and stirring.

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