Honoring Shepard With The Truth

Andrew Sullivan —  Sep 20 2013 @ 1:57pm

In today’s video from Jimenez, he addresses the criticism he faced after working on the 20/20 piece that first introduced the thesis of The Book Of Matt to the world in 2004:

Sure enough, Media Matters has already published a take-down of Jimenez’s book before it’s even released. And this is how the Matthew Shepard Foundation has responded thus far:

Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law. We do not respond to innuendo, rumor or conspiracy theories. Instead we recommit ourselves to honoring Matthew’s memory, and refuse to be intimidated by those who seek to tarnish it. We owe that to the tens of thousands of donors, activists, volunteers, and allies to the cause of equality who have made our work possible.

The Book Of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard comes out next week. Steve’s previous videos in the series are here. A reader reflects on it:

What made Matthew’s story a story is not the facts of his death, but the reaction after his death. Whatever happened, Jimenez adds new information to the context, but the actual events are trapped on a hillside 15 years ago.

When the first reports of what happened in Laramie became publicized, I was a closeted guy living in a mostly rural, conservative Midwestern town.  I felt Matthew’s death because of the coverage and the story. It provided a realization of my fears leftover from being assaulted in my early teens by two classmates suspicious that I was a faggot.

They rammed me up against a locker in a late morning break between classes and punched and kicked me a few times. They then pinned me into a corner and poured an entire bottle of cheap perfume over my head – an event that had helped keep me in the closet for the next 25 years.

Nearly five years after Matthew’s death, I was returning home after a one-year leave.  Just as I finished the overseas leave, I was part of an incident wherein another man and I intervened in the hate-based assault of a 19-year-old man by four men shouting homophobic slurs. The assailants had been alternating holding him and hitting him and throwing his possessions into the busy street.  The other guy who intervened also got injuries, including an apparent concussion, but I was mostly okay. We slowed it down enough until some bouncers at a nearby gay bar came over and ended it.  When we tried to report it, the police did not want to file a report and told us that they thought it was just a fight and should not be reported for its context.

The reality is that the extra fear caused by hate crimes deserves more thought than you give it.  I have been robbed and assaulted in another context that had not to do with being gay.  It was a more serious incident in terms of potential risk to my life, but the incident that I remember, that I can smell, hear and see to this very day is the assault of a young man named David on Oxford Street in Sydney, Australia.  The incident wherein the next day the police said, “Mate, they’re kids, so nothing will happen if we file the crime report.”  They said it happens all the time and there is nothing they can do about it.  It took two hours of me being an asshole in the police station before they agreed to write a crime report.  Matthew Shepard was with me that entire time.

A week later, after arriving back in the states, I was driving cross-country from San Francisco with a friend back to the Midwest.  We stayed one of the nights in Laramie, as it made the most sense for the trip.  That evening, I took a solo walk through town and looked up at the hillside where I know from the reports he spent his last hours.  Whatever the reason and true circumstances from the night he died, I knew that one of me, another imperfect gay soul, died alone on that hillside.  The reaction and story, however factual, is, like many American stories, a defining moment.

The next morning, when we drove out of Laramie (I didn’t sleep much that night), I knew that I was not going back in the closet.  I knew that I was moving into a new phase of my life.  Not four years later I was testifying in the Indiana legislature against a marriage amendment.  I don’t need the story of Matt to be perfect, but we cannot change the impact of his story still has on many of us.