The 1998 murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard in a horrific hate crime was one of the first of its kind to gain major media attention and put a spotlight on the nationwide epidemic of anti-gay violence. The Laramie Project, a play that was written about the impact of the murder both on Laramie, Wyoming, where it took place, and the citizens who were left to deal with the fallout, is still performed to this day.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation continues to fight hate with educational outreach programming, and his name (along with racial hate crime victim James Byrd, Jr.) is attached to federal hate crime legislation designed to enhance penalties for those who commit crimes based on race or sexual orientation. There is arguably no symbol in the modern gay rights movement more deified than Matthew Shepard. However, nearly 20 years after his murder, a new book aims to change how Shepard’s death is viewed.
The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About The Murder of Matthew Shepard was written by openly gay journalist, writer, and producer Stephen Jimenez, who traveled to Laramie in 2000 to write a screenplay about Shepard’s murder. What he found after 13 years of travel, interviews, and research with some of the key figures of the case are tabloid-style details that had already been reported but are likely to ruffle more than a few feathers. But they do little to change the grand narrative of a young man who was tortured and killed in cold blood by gay-hating predators.
Among the shocking allegations in the sensationally titled manuscript is that one of the men convicted of murdering Shepard, Aaron McKinney, was Shepard’s sometime lover and a closeted bisexual who may have killed him not just out of hatred for his homosexuality, but because Shepard supposedly possessed six ounces of crystal meth that had just come into Laramie. McKinney had been on a five-day meth bender, and his violent rage grew in part out of the devastating impact of the drug on his self control.
Yet it has long been known that gay-bashing killers sometimes harbour hidden sexual desires that they are trying to snuff out not just in their victims but in themselves as well. And the fact that drugs and sleep deprivation (and desire for Shepard’s stash) may have exacerbated his loathing does not change the reality of the underlying homophobia or the senselessness of the murder of a brave young gay man.
Andrew Sullivan interviewed the author (below), who seems aware of the fallout he may face, but remains determined to report the truth of what he discovered.
Editor’s note: This post was edited for clarity after publication.