In 1986 Robbie Palmer was murdered in rural Indiana, his body dumped in a farm field drainage ditch, left there to rot, a carcass for the turtles and wildlife to eat. His murder took place long before anyone knew the name Matthew Shepard.
Robbie was my classmate and our southern Indiana town did nothing about the crime -- people were utterly apathetic. It was as if collectively local folks thought, "Eh, it's just a queer."
Robbie had attended a local party rumored to be an annual gathering of homosexuals. "The queers killed him," people said. Local pulpits reacted with fire and brimstone sermons about God's wrath, abomination, Leviticus, and the Apostle Paul. Church members all but branded Robbie's mother with a scarlet H -- the mother of a homosexual.
Thirty years have passed. Robbie's murder remains unsolved.
There was a Grand Jury investigation; party attendees were called to testify. Several of the men testifying lost their jobs because of the publicity surrounding the proceedings. Others had rocks thrown at them outside of the courthouse. The prosecutor said he was "investigating satanic, ritual homosexual practices" particular to my hometown. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union charged that the grand jury witch-hunt "tainted gays as murderous deviants, spurred anti-gay harassment, and damaged the lives of the people questioned."
I was 17 years old. I too was gay, in the closet, and struggling with my sexual orientation. Robbie's murder terrified me and scandalized my hometown. The crime colored my self-awareness and kept me from coming out for years. Local people still refuse to talk about Robbie's murder.
It is hard to reason that thirty years have passed and my southern Indiana hometown has not changed. "Tell your boy Grey to stop writing or someone's gonna put a gun to his head," a retired police officer said to my father not three weeks ago. Nevertheless, I am telling the story -- I'm telling my story -- and yet I can't help but wonder what they will do to me?