October being LGBTQ History Month it allows the LGBTQ community to
look back at historical events. And Matthew Shepard’s murder
is one of them.
October 12 marks twenty years since the death of Matthew Shepard. In
October 1998, Shepard, then 21, was a first-year college student at
University of Wyoming. Under the guise of friendship, two men (Aaron
McKinney and Russell Henderson) lured Shepard from a tavern, tortured
and bludgeoned him with their rifles, and then tethered him to a
rough-hewn wooden fence to die – simply because he was gay.
the story the world over has come to know. And, for the most part,
the LGBTQ community is tenaciously sticking with it, resulting in
numerous hagiographies on Shepard as the quintessential LGBTQ icon.
with all iconic narratives, apocryphal tales abound, too, resulting
in queries concerning the truth.
2013 investigative journalist Stephen Jimenez, himself gay, wrote
“The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard,” upending a canonized narrative we all have grown
familiarly comfortable with, irrespective of its sensationalized
had the pleasure of meeting Jimenez at his book reading at the
Harvard Coop that October in 2013. I told Stephen, referring to his
book, that perhaps it’s easier to kill the messenger (him) than
hear his message.
posits that Shepard’s murder had nothing to do with his sexual
orientation but rather his involvement in the deadly underworld of
Laramie’s crystal methamphetamine drug trafficking. Jimenez
writes that Shepard was not only a user but he was a courier who had
plans just before his death to drive a shipment of meth.
learned that Matthew had been a user of meth. And from everything I
was able to trace, Matthew got into meth in a serious way, when he
was living in Denver before he moved to Laramie,” Jimenez
stated in an interview with Rachel Martin of “Weekend Edition”
to Jimenez Shepard’s murderers were not strangers—one is
a bisexual crystal meth addict who not only knew Matthew, but
partied, bought drugs from and had sex with Matthew. With this “new”
information a more textured but troubling narrative emerges.
response, however, to Jimenez’s book was a thunderous rebuke
that he became an instant media sensation as a pariah, a Judas, and a
colossal sellout. The response to Jimenez’s book was such that
Aaron Hicklin’s article “Have We Got Matthew Shepard All
Wrong?” in The Advocate asked, “Did our need to make a
symbol of Shepard blind us to a messy, complex story that is darker
and more troubling than the established narrative?”
a 2004 episode of the television news magazine show “20/20’s”
investigative journalist Elizabeth Vargas also reported that money
and drugs motivated Shepard killers’ actions and not
homophobia. However, many immediately discredit the episode once
finding out that Jimenez was its producer that resulted in his
story, nonetheless, shatters a revered icon for LGBTQ rights, one who
was deliberately chosen because of his race, gender, and economic
Shepard’s status as a gay everyman was determined - first by
the media, then by gay-rights groups - with little knowledge of who
he was. He looked like an attractive, angelic, white college student
from the heart of conservative America...” Gabriel Arana wrote
in her 2009 piece “The Deification of Matthew Shepard: What the
gay-rights movement has lost by making Shepard its icon.”
anointing of Matthew Shepard as an iconic image for LGBTQ rights not
only concealed from the American public the real person but also it
hid the other varied faces of hate crimes in 1998.
example, that of James Byrd, Jr. The hate crime is depicted as
lynching-by-dragging. Walking home from a party along a highway in
East Texas Byrd was offered a ride. The ride resulted being dragged
by his ankles to his death - simply because he was black.
reading Jimenez’s book we shockingly learn that Matthew Shepard
is a fictive narrative. Some, however, would empathically argue it’s
a good one to politically canonized in order to push for needed
legislative changes in the protection and understanding of LGBTQ
fruit of the Shepard narrative includes:
Matthew Shepard Foundation, The Laramie Project, T.V. movie “The
Matthew Shepard Story,” The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate
Crimes Prevention Act, mostly known as the Matthew Shepard Act, to
name a few.
bad, some would say, for a story built on more fiction than truth.
cultural currency of the Shepard narrative’s shelf life,
however, might now after nearly two decades be flickering out. Or,
in 2017, it’s now of no immediate political expediency to its
framers and the community it was intended to serve.
are valuable reasons for telling certain stories in a certain way at
pivotal times, but that doesn’t mean we have to hold on to them
once they’ve outlived their usefulness,” Hicklin, wrote.
read Jimenez’s “The Book of Matt” as a cautionary
tale of how the needs of a community might have trumped the truth.
In retrospection, crystal meth was popular in urban gay clubs and in
small-town America like Laramie. Homophobia, unquestionably, played a
role in Shepard’s death, but drugs might have, too.
year will be the twentieth anniversary of Shepard’s death.
Perhaps, we should revisit the story anew.