The Matthew Shepard Murder Revisited

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The Matthew Shepard Murder Revisited

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?”

In a 2004 episode of the television newsmagazine 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 controversial book.This story, nonetheless, shatters a revered icon for LGBTQ rights, one who was deliberately chosen because of his race, gender, and economic background.

“Matthew 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.”
The 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.

For 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.
In 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 Americans.

The fruit of the Shepard narrative includes: The 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.
Not bad, some would say, for a story built on more fiction than truth.The 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.

“There 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. I 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. Next year will be the twentieth anniversary of Shepard’s death. Perhaps, we should revisit the story anew.