Matthew Shepard Truthers Say Hate Crime Laws Were Built On a Lie

This week, almost 15 years to the day that Matthew Shepard was killed and strung up on a fence in Wyoming, a book claiming to provide the true story of Matthew Shepard's death will be released—a book that blames drugs, not homophobia as the reason Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson killed Shepard. 

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This week, almost 15 years to the day since Matthew Shepard was killed and strung up on a fence in Wyoming, a book claiming to provide the true story of Shepard's death will be released — a book that blames drugs, not homophobia, as the reason Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson killed him.

The book in question is The Book of Matt, by Stephen Jimenez, who postulates that one of Shepard's murderers had gay sex, possibly with Shepard, and that this is more proof that Shepard wasn't killed because he was gay. Jimenez mentions a letter he found while going through unsealed court documents. "It mentioned at first both Aaron and Russell, but as the letter went on it spoke more about Aaron, mentioning that he really did like having sex with gay guys, that he wasn't unfamiliar with homosexuality and the gay world," Jimenez told Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. Because McKinney was allegedly OK with having sex with men, Jimenez believes this gives credence to McKinney and Henderson's assertion that Shepard was killed because both men were coming down from crystal meth. (Never mind the idea that being homophobic, engaging in gay sex, and being a meth user aren't mutually exclusive, and it's possible that someone could be all three.)

That narrative goes against everything we've been told and possibly what we know about Matthew Shepard. Take Jimenez's theory a step further, and you could make the argument that hate crime legislation — President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law in 2009 — has been built on deceit.

What we're left with are questions about who to trust and what story to believe. Jimenez's narrative could be slanted. Jimenez is gay, which some believe makes his story more truthful, in that he would naturally be more sympathetic to Shepard. The counterpoint to that is that Jimenez is friends with an attorney named Tim Newcomb, (left-leaning) Media Matters points out. Newcomb represented Shepard's killer, Russell Henderson. And Jimenez has spoken about whether or not Henderson and McKinney deserved equal sentences.

Conservatives love Jimenez's narrative of the Shepard story. Last week, Breitbart News contributor Ben Shapiro wrote a column (which spelled Jimenez's name wrong in every instance) for the conservative-leaning Town Hall website connecting Shepard's murder to Trayvon Martin. Shapiro does not mention Jimenez's connection to Newcomb, and accepts Jimenez's narrative as fact. One of the qualifiers that Shapiro uses as a gauge to whether or not this narrative is true is that Andrew Sullivan, a gay blogger who sometimes hates New York and roots for Obama, approves of Jimenez's book. Shapiro writes:

Were the left to openly contend that gay men and women around America are in danger every day from the vastly homophobic majority of the American populace, most Americans would rightly be insulted and skeptical. Were the left to suggest that most Americans are vicious racists a hairsbreadth away from murdering black teenagers, most Americans would scoff. Instead, the left trots out cases like Shepard and cases like Trayvon -- and manufactures those cases to fit their needs.

Shapiro's point: Shepard's legacy is one more lie peddled by liberals. Shapiro seems to have case of convenient amnesia, forgetting the right's now-failed attempt to pander to conservative voters by demonizing gay voters and rights. New York's Jonathan Chait questioned this forget-it strategy during the Supreme Court's hearing on DOMA in March. Chait documented instances like in 1998, when the GOP-dominated Senate blocked a Clinton appointee for ambassador because he was homosexual, or in 2000, when George W. Bush insinuated that he did not want to give "special rights for gay people." And conservatives made gay rights and gay marriage an issue during the 2004 election.

During those DOMA hearings, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan had to chime in and call Paul Clement, the lawyer representing the House and defending DOMA, out on his glossing over how the legislation compromised the rights of gay people. The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin reported: 

He was portraying DOMA as almost a kind of housekeeping measure, designed to keep federal law consistent across all fifty states. As Clement told it, there was almost no ideological content to the law at all.

Then Justice Elena Kagan swiftly and elegantly lowered the boom on him. She said, "Well, is what happened in 1996—and I’m going to quote from the House Report here—is that 'Congress decided … to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.'"

Dismissing Matthew Shepard's hate crime legislation as a lie takes that amnesia to another level. It implies that anti-gay bias and violence isn't real — i.e. if people lied about Matthew Shepard, one of the most visible episodes of anti-gay hate in American history, can we really trust the word of gay people? "In different ways, the Shepard story we've come to embrace was just as necessary for shaping the history of gay rights as Lawrence v. Texas; it galvanized a generation of LGBT youth and stung lawmakers into action," Out Editor Aaron Hicklin wrote in his review of the book, adding:

There are obvious reasons why advocates of hate crime legislation must want to preserve one particular version of the Matthew Shepard story, but it was always just that — a version. Jimenez’s version is another, more studiously reported account ...

Hicklin goes on to explain that McKinney is actually an unreliable witness and is "desperate" to refute the idea that he is gay or bisexual, one of the backbones of Jimenez's theory. The Matthew Shepard foundation has weighed in too. "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," the foundation said.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.