LARAMIE, Wyo. - People line the curb all the way to First Street, waiting under yellow cottonwoods and a wide blue sky, on a day that seems especially made for a Homecoming Parade. Beyond First Street, a freight train moves slowly between the edge of town and the prairie that lifts to the snowy peaks of the Medicine Bow Mountains. The crowd edges forward, and here comes the University of Wyoming Cowboy marching band. Heads high, they step to the rhythm of the big bass drums. Children cover their ears against the bright blasts of trumpets, while a little boy in a red plaid coat directs the music with a stick, then points the stick at the marchers and fires off a single shot.
mascot, "Cowboy Joe," plods by, a shaggy pony led by four young
women in canvas barn coats and cowboy hats. Then, in careful order,
politicians perched on the backsides of convertibles; the
university president, young and grim; members of the student
government, dancing on the floor of a flatbed truck.
Everyone in the parade wears a strip of pale
yellow cloth. Cloth strips tie back long hair, decorate cowboy
hats, dangle from belt loops, fly from the antennae of the classic
cars, encircle people's arms. The yellow cloth is a reminder of
Matt Shepard, a University of Wyoming freshman hospitalized on
life-support machines. Yesterday, his skull was smashed by the
butt-end of a pistol.
A loudspeaker mounted on a
truck broadcasts the "Old Chisholm Trail," and here comes the
University of Wyoming rodeo team in a pickup truck, followed by the
governor of Wyoming, wearing a cowboy hat, waving to the crowd.
Young men march by, carrying cheerleaders on their shoulders. W! Y!
O! they shout, and people along the street clap and cheer for these
young people, so joyous and alive that it seems as if their whole
lives have led them to this triumphant day. Coma ti yi yippee
The bicyclists who found Matt
thought at first he was a scarecrow, strung up on a buck-and-rail
fence on the edge of town, hanging limp from his spread-eagle arms,
shards of skull and tufts of hair sticking out of his head like
straw. But he was a human being after all - a young gay man, lured
from a bar, tied to a fence, pistol-whipped, and left for dead.
Police have four young people in custody and they are investigating
gingerly, not saying much, but they think they know the motive for
Children pull against their parents'
hands because here come the horses, sleek and black, with sumptuous
saddles and glittering riders. The horses prance and pace, shying
at candy wrappers caught in the wind. A pretty girl on rollerblades
glides behind the horses, carrying a shovel and pushing a
wheelbarrow of manure.
Now around the corner
comes the Laramie High School Plainsmen marching band, with yellow
ribbons tied around their arms. The students' eyes are fixed on
their music and their foreheads are creased with thought, each
teenager trying hard not to be the one who is out of step. A long,
recurved blast on a whistle, and the band begins a "50s tune. Wa wa
wa wa wonder/why/you went away, but the Plainsmen have begun
playing before the speaker-truck has disappeared around the corner,
and the songs get all tangled up together - I'll tell you of my
troubles/And I wonder/on the Old Chisholm Trail/why why why why
wonder/Coma ti yi yippee yippee yea - until the truck turns the
corner and the Kappa Sigma snow shovel marching band lopes down the
street, dragging snow shovels that drown out the
A few more
politicians pass by, some fraternity floats, and now here comes a
banner - REMEMBER MATT SHEPARD - and behind that, a disorganized
crowd of people. First come students from the University of
Wyoming's gay community and their friends. Following them come
families linked arm-in-arm, babies riding on their fathers'
shoulders, students, professors, small children running to keep up,
dogs with yellow strips of fabric on their collars, middle-aged
women wearing homecoming chrysanthemums, their faces contorted with
the struggle to keep from crying. People carry signs: "Hate is not
a small town value." "Laramie says NO to violence and evil." Two
parents swing their small son along between them. He squeals with
pleasure. A young woman walks alone, weeping. A man carries a dog
in his arms.
The bystanders clap sporadically at
first, not sure what to do, but as the crowd of people passes and
the street empties in front of them, bystanders step off the curb
and fall in behind the marchers. From both sides of the street,
lines of people peel into formation, watchers becoming marchers,
and the parade grows and grows, like a Virginia reel gathering
dancers, up Ivinson Avenue, past the tack shop, down Second Street,
east on Grand Avenue toward the football stands.
They walk up the street, shoulder to shoulder, the men and the
women and the children and the dogs, as if they could drive evil
onto the prairie where the wind would catch it up and tear it to
pieces; as if they could bring a boy back to life; as if their
rhythmic, moving feet could reverse the clock and Matt's skull
would slowly come back together, shards of bone knitting into his
head. Blood would disappear back into his eyes, and his hair would
smooth, and his arms would tense along the fence, and he would be
pleading for his life, and there would still be time to save
But of course it's a day too late and
everybody knows it. For the last three years, legislators have
voted down hate-crime legislation, because they saw no hate in
Wyoming. And already, following the parade a discreet distance
behind, is an enormous machine with a rotating brush on each side
and a vacuum in the middle, moving slowly down the street. Candy
wrappers, nuggets of horse manure, campaign fliers and yellow
strips of cloth disappear under the sweeper, and behind it, the
street is immaculate and deserted.
Kathleen Dean Moore, a philosophy professor at
Oregon State University, is currently on research leave at the
University of Wyoming in Laramie. She is the author of
Riverwalking, a collection of