Remembering Matthew Shepard
Today is the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s being found beaten, tortured and left for dead tied to a fencepost. I originally ran this piece a few years ago, and despite my getting national pickup on it, I maintain rights to rerun it as I see it.
Has anything changed in the years since Shepard’s death? Sadly, not much, and gay advocates own the brunt of that failure for providing virtually no pressure on the powers that be to enforce the law. The Shepard/Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act was passed in 2009, and exactly two people have been charged under it.
Hate crimes continue to rise, and virtually nobody is talking about it. The most recent article in Google pops up as 2009, the year the HCPA was signed, with 306,000. In contrast, the number of articles written on gay marriage? 31,900,000.
Crimes against LGBT people are going up – way up.
The generation coming up behind me doesn’t have the bright, rosy future I’d hoped for. Don’t get me wrong: while things aren’t horrible everywhere, there’s still work to be done. A lot of work to be done.
Simply crossing our fingers and hoping the ball gets rolling doesn’t work. Speaking out ONLY when violence has been perpetuated doesn’t work. Countless incidences of people claiming to be assaulted under the guise of LGBT violence (and turing out to be complete and utter lies), has made the violence against us almost a non-issue.
Mindless advocacy of gay marriage (which has NO hope of passing federally in a quick manner. It will eventually get there, but certainly not overnight) while ignoring the violence some people face every day – among many other important issues – is killing off our community.
There; I said it. Gay advocates had best start learning to juggle more than one ball at a time or we’re doomed.
We owe it to the gay kids coming up behind us. Yes, things WILL get better but it’s going to be a rocky road in some places. There are gonna be days when you don’t have a lot of support, it’s going to seem like the world really does hate you, and there’s going to be days when some people in that world take active measures to wish you dead.
And we need to help those that can’t help themselves.
There was a day in October a few years ago that I got a phone call from my partner, Richard. I was on the home phone with a work client, so I let Richard go to voicemail. He called back two more times in rapid succession while I was collecting details for a photo shoot I needed to cover. Richard never did this, so I knew something was wrong and without listening to the voicemails he left I called him back. He told me to turn on the news – any channel.
A young man named Matthew Shepard was found beaten and tortured in Wyoming. Information gathered during the law enforcement investigation revealed that Matthew was lured from a campus bar by two men he met there and shared some drinks with. He was too intoxicated to drive himself and took them up on an offer to drive him home. Instead of taking him to his home, he was driven out to a remote area where he was tied to the fence, tortured, pistol-whipped and left for dead. A cyclist had found him some eighteen hours after his attack, initially mistaking him for a scarecrow.
Five days after being found, Matthew died a result of his injuries. I felt like I had been punched in the gut, as did Richard and all of my friends. This feeling didn’t limit it’s scope to just my LGBT friends; everybody I knew was speechless than this even occurred – much less in such a horrific fashion.
During the trials that followed, both defendants initially claimed that their attack was based on unwanted sexual advances from Matthew and they attempted to use a “gay panic defense” as the basis for their actions. In the end, that rationale proved futile: one defendant agreed to a plea deal in exchange for flipping on his friend and they both sit in jail serving double life sentences for Matthew’s attack and murder.
In 2004, during an ABC 20/20 interview with Elizabeth Vargas, both defendants recanted their initial defense and stated that their motivation for beating Matthew was nothing more than robbery. They had a hardcore meth habit to fuel and were dealing the product as well. Their intial plan of robbing their dealer had fallen through, which lead them into town in pursuit of a victim. During the trial it was testifed that in an exchange for drugs, one man traded a .357 magnum to acquire his meth from the defendant. That very gun that would later be used to pistol-whip Matthew.
I don’t know that the truth will ever emerge: Matthew isn’t here and the word of his killers or their friends cannot be trusted. Their interview has since been discounted in other sources as nothing more than an attempt to not be seen as gay bashers.
At 5’2″ and 110 pounds, Matthew was described by his friends as a “big man in a small body” who would have done anything for anybody. His life ended for reasons no rational person can begin to fathom or comprehend. Richard and I had alot of discussions about the motivation of this crime and the senseless tragedy of it all in the weeks that followed. Now that Richard is gone, I still think of Matthew’s murder and have alot of questions that remain unanswered eleven years later.
Today is the anniversary of Matthew’s death. I hope as you read this you have the time and opportunity to reflect on it in whatever method you see fit; remembering the tragedy of a life cut short and the loved ones he leaves behind.
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]Remembering Matthew Shepard,