A recent book has thrown a bucket of ice water onto an icon of GLBT rights. In The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, author Steve Jimenez claims that Shepard’s murder wasn’t a hate crime at all but was instead motivated by a complicated relationship between the killers and the victim, fueled by methamphetamines. Jimenez’ research has revealed that Shepard knew the killers personally, especially Aaron McKinney, with whom he’d even had a sexual relationship.
Both McKinney and his accomplice Russell Henderson had been on a crystal meth bender for five days when they encountered Shepard at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming, and the murder may have been motivated by a drug turf dispute. Needless to say, these claims have not gone unchallenged. Moisés Kaufman, author of The Laramie Project, dismissed the new account as a whitewash.
But really, does it matter? The storming of the Bastille became the gunpowder for the French Revolution—no matter that the symbol of oppression turned out to be an empty shell housing a few lunatics. The Shepard case came to prominence only because of its bizarre nature, notably the crucifixion-like method of execution. But gay bashings and murders do take place every day, albeit less theatrically than the Shepard execution. Just as France’s ancien régime was genuinely oppressive and people were authentically starving, hate crimes against GLBT people really happen, and the people needed to be told.