A Gay Icon Falls?

By Austin Ruse

(New York — C-FAM) UN and other foreign policy makers will have noticed that the parents of Matthew Shepard have become leading spokespeople for the rights of gay people around the world.

They have appeared at the UN and also recently took a tour of European capitals under the auspices of the US State Department, which has made LGBT rights a primary focus of US foreign policy.

Matthew Shepard was a young man who was brutally murdered in October 1998. Almost immediately global attention turned to the speculation that Shepard’s killers tortured and murdered him out of animus that he was gay. His killers tied him to a fence outside of the tiny town of Laramie, Wyoming and his death was compared to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Within days of his death Shepard became the face of gay rights in America and around the world. A New York Times editorial from that time suggested Shepard was the representative of gay rights the movement had needed all along. He was young, handsome and innocent.

All along there were naysayers to the Shepard narrative. Social critic Camille Paglia wrote in Salon that Shepard had a taste for what is called “rough trade” and that he could have died from that. Detectives at the time suggested that his death was more than likely tied to drugs rather than his homosexuality. An ABC 20/20 segment several years later explored that possibility.

However, a new book out by award winning gay journalist Steven Jiminez goes much further than previous critics of the Shepard narrative. Jiminez went to Laramie many years ago to conduct interviews for a movie script about the life and death of Shepard. Almost immediately he began to hear stories about Shepard that had never been reported and that flatly contradict the notion that he was killed because he was gay.

In The Book of Matt reveals what townsfolk knew all along, that Shepard was very involved in the Laramie drug scene, may have been an occasional drug dealer himself, and even more importantly, he knew his killers. More than that, he and his killers had sex together.

One of the conceits of the dominant narrative was that Shepard did not know his killers, that his killers walked into the Fireside bar that night at 11:45 and somehow got a total stranger, Shepard, to leave with them 15 minutes later. According to the Jiminez book, Shepard knew his killers well. The book speculates that Shepard was killed because he had a new stash of methamphetamine and the killers wanted it. The book also reports that his main killer, Aaron McKinney, was on a five-day meth binge, a state given to maniacal violence.

The new book has been reported in the gay press and also in the conservative press but does not seem to have broken into the mainstream, not yet anyway. Things may change when the book is finally released on October 1. But the question remains, will this new story change in any way the dominant story that has aided the gay movement so well? If Matthew Shepard was killed strictly because of drugs by his sometime gay sex partner, what will that do to his martyr status in the gay community and in the larger world including at the United Nations?

Austin Ruse is president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute (http://www.c-fam.org/). His article first appeared in the Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM, and it is published here with permission.

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