Matthew Shepard was murdered 10 years ago today. Between the evening of oct. 6 and the am of Oct. 7, he was severely beaten by two men who initially used the “gay defense” and now claim it was meth related. Aaron James McKinney and Russell Arthur Henderson beat Mathew, pistol whipped him, and left him tied to a fence post to die. I have driven in the cold night winds in Laramie, stood in the place where he died, and it is amazing that Mathew survived as long as he did, finally breathing his last breath in hospital on Oct. 12.
8 years later, CBS ran a story featuring his killers who claimed the hate crime charges were dreamed up by one of Matthew’s friends who alerted queer rights advocates around the nation and “started a frenzy.” They, and their friends, claimed they were railroaded into claiming the “gay defense,” ie that he had been trying to pick them up and it freaked them out, because they thought they would get lighter sentences. Never mind that hate crimes law adds years to a sentence or the thinking implied here, ie killing a gay person is less important than killing a straight one. The report questioned the efficacy of the queer bashing on the basis of the two murderers’ self-report for the interview ignoring these discrepancies and their court room testimony, painting them as almost sympathetic. My girlfriend and I watched it in horror as they claimed “meth made them do it” and that Matthew had promised them drugs; something that cannot be proven nor would justify killing him if he had or undermine the idea that they ultimately killed him for being gay. When the voice over came on claiming maybe Matthew’s sexuality had nothing to do with it, my gf left the room in a rage. As friends and family of the two men said they were being “unfairly persecuted” as homophobes, I sat there and cried.
The facts of the case have never been in dispute except on that CBS report. Matthew went to a bar to blow off some steam and avoid studying for an exam he had to take in the morning. He met Henderson and McKinney there, where they appeared to be interested in him and invited him outside. They then beat him bloody, splitting his skull in a half moon shape up the back of his head, and pistol whipping him as he begged for mercy. Fearing they would be caught and wanting to teach him a lesson for “flirting with them in the bar” they tied him to a fence post in the prairie wind. They admitted to beating him and leaving him for dead because he was gay. They admitted that the beating began because they thought he was flirting with them. They admitted to murdering him for being queer. They entered a plea of guilty.
Neither of those men has even shown a sign of remorse for the murder in public.
10 years later places like California, Arizona, Kansas, and others are fighting battles about gay marriage rights with conservative groups making the same unfounded and fear inducing remarks that these two men mad about homosexuality. Worse, the hatred that they are fostering in the name of a God, through the institution of Churches, Synagogues, and even 2 Universities, is spreading the same hatred that allowed Matthew to be targeted and killed.
10 years have past since Matthew’s tears washed the blood from his cheeks as he waited alone in the dark and the cold. 10 years and the map of hatred in this nation seems so very much the same. Queer bashings are the third most prevalent hate crime in the United States according to the HRC.
Had he lived, Matthew would have been 32 years old.