Laramie, Wyoming – Fifteen years ago today, Matthew Wayne Shepard took his fatal ride with two young men from the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, and suffered the savage attack that changed the world–for LGBTQ people, for sure, since the issue of LGBTQ hate crimes murder would never be seen in the same way again–but most of all for his family, who have been embroiled in a struggle over the story of their elder son’s life and death. From the very beginning, powerful people saw Matt’s story as something they HAD to control. Anti-gay forces have consistently deployed journalists with an agenda: remove “hate crime” from the Matt Shepard story. Today’s popular revision of the motives for Matt’s murder is making sensational news, but it is actually part of a right wing cottage industry seeking to rewrite a history all the major law enforcement investigators are agreed about–Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay.
In 2011, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, who visited Laramie personally to investigate the claims for himself, wrote a chapter about the determined effort to rewrite Matthew Shepard’s story, and excise the issue of anti-gay hate crime from it. Entitled “The Second Death of Matthew Shepard,” Sprinkle details how revisionists during the trial of Aaron McKinney, and later in the infamous creation of the muckraking 20/20 “special” (in which current revisionist Stephen Jimenez played a significant role as a re-writer), continue to attempt an undercut of the most effectively reported anti-gay hate crime murder in history.
Responding to this latest wave of revisionism seeking to warp the story of Matt’s death, the Matthew Shepard Foundation issued this rebuttal, reported in the New York Daily News. We at Unfinished Lives Blog could not agree more: “Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law.” ~ Matthew Shepard Foundation statement
As a tribute to Matthew Shepard and his courageous family, Judy and Dennis, his parents, and Logan, his brother, Unfinishedlivesblog.com shares this excerpt setting up the argument of Sprinkle’s thesis: that nothing can change the exhaustively investigated findings of the case. Matt Shepard died because of unreasoning hatred, heterosexism and homophobia. The full chapter can be read in Sprinkle’s award winning book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011).
Murdering Matt’s Story
“Revisionists are getting away with murder, working to change the subject of Matthew Shepard and alter the impact of his story for LGBT Americans. It is not just that they are trying to shift the conversation to something more palatable to the cheerful, “Good Morning, America” attitude so prevalent in this country. Another sort of murder is afoot. The revisionists are working to change how Matt is remembered—to revise his story into the image and likeness of what queer folk are to them: people of bad character, the sort of anti-saints whom Judy Shepard suggested face suspicion and revulsion. In science, if the epitome of a whole species is found to exist in a particular specimen, then that individual becomes the “holotype” for all that follow it. All other specimens are compared to the original that set the standard. Weaken the holotype, distort it, and you inevitably revise the meaning of everything else in its class.
“The public outcry at Matt’s cold-blooded killing meant the hate crime that cut his young life short became the holotype in the American psyche for all instances of oppression against people in the sexual minority. It also sent a chill into the bones of the religio-political Right Wing. Power to enact protection statutes for LGBT people coalesced around Matt’s death so swiftly that the Wingers feared anti-LGBT hate crime legislation might actually become law. Their strategy was to kill the story, or failing that, change the narrative. Cut the power of moral outrage out from under Matt’s murder, they reasoned, and they would blunt the mounting public sentiment for an end to anti-LGBT oppression.
“Since Matt’s story looms larger than any other account of anti-LGBT hate murder, attempts to discredit Matt and lessen the moral impact of his death are archetypal, as well. The first attempt to kill the story and change the subject was made public during the trials of Henderson and McKinney. With the death penalty staring down at them, they swore they had never intended to kill Matt—just rob him. Henderson and McKinney and their attorneys entered the primal homophobic defense ploy into the public record: Matt was actually responsible for his own murder. He hit on them in the pickup truck, making sexual advances. His abductors panicked, assaulted him without mercy, got on with their thefts, including his wallet, credit card and shoes, drove him for miles and tied him up in the remote Sherman Hills area east of Laramie, leaving him to die in near-freezing temperatures—wouldn’t anybody, in their situation?
“As absurd as it sounds, the ‘gay panic’ defense is a homophobic classic, and as the Matthew Shepard case shows, it can rise to dizzying heights of absurdity. In order for it to work, either in a court of law or in the court of public opinion, the gay panic defense must feed off of the irrational fear of homosexual latency, especially in males. Its fabricators bet that men are so terrified and insecure about their masculinity that making a charge of sexual aggression against a Gay hate crime victim will infect the prosecution’s account of the facts just enough to skew a verdict. It puts the victim on trial instead of the perpetrators.”
End of excerpt
Rest in peace, Matt. Your story does not belong to the revisionists. We who believe in Justice cannot rest…we who believe in Justice cannot rest until it comes.