Matthew Shephard Show

A friend invited me to go watch the matthew shephard story at his friend’s
place. I did, and it was an okay made for tv film, despite being incredibly
preachy, and uncompromisingly biased. It got me thinking on several topics.
It portrays anti-gay violence pretty graphicly for television. It was
unabashedly pro-death-penalty until the very end. And, as always, it raised
questions regarding media attention towards this particular incident.

I’ve never been on the recieving end of any anti-gay violence. I’ve had a
couple of driveby slurs shouted at me. I’ve lost a couple of friends over
being gay, but only a couple. I’ve been very careful and a little lucky. In
the past year, a friend of a friend was shot leaving a gay bar, another in
similar circumstances fought back against his assailants and ended up being
permanently impaired when, as he was fighting them back, he grabbed onto one of
them as they drove off. Both are alive. A straight man hugged a male friend
of his outside a bar in chicago and was severely beaten by cops from that bar.
He too is alive (and suing). A lesbian whom I never knew, who worked at a gay
bar in pittsburgh I’ve been to many a time was burned alive in her car. She is
not.

Anti-gay violence happens. As with any violence, it is wrong. It affects a
person, and a community to know that it could happen to us, for no reason other
than stepping out of a familiar place at the wrong time, or showing affection
to a loved one. It didn’t start or end with Matthew Shephard.

There is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty works as a deterant, but
there is conclusive evidence that many people that have been sentenced to death
are innocent. Given the error inherent in the judicial process, I am
unambiguously opposed to it. And yet, even in the truly unambiguous case, such
as (to the nearest of my knowledge) McKinney, we ought to stop them. Does that
mean kill them? It’s not the only way to accomplish the goal. And I think
there are better options.

There have been a large number of possible victims to select from when it comes
to who the media turned into the poster child for anti-gay violence. One
wonders why they chose Matthew Shephard. Could it be because he was the
archetypal gay man? Physically less than imposing, into theater, pretty, etc.
How about the gay men who fought back? Why did it wait until this particular
example to bring the matter to light?

One thought on “Matthew Shephard Show”

  1. In many ways, Matthew Sheppard was a tailor-made martyr. He was attractive, young, and died a horribly ugly death. His murder, occurring as it did in a slow-news period during October of 1998, inflamed the sensitivities of a gay community whose imaginations were already fired up by the tenth anniversary of National Coming Out Day.

    Without taking away from the tragedy that befell Sheppard, I wholeheartedly agree with your point that he’s by far not the only victim of antigay violence. Six months later in Birmingham Alabama, Billy Jack Gaither was beaten to death and set on fire. Yet for all the fiery grotesquerie of his death, Gaither proved to be a far less photogenic martyr than Sheppard, and his memory fails to stir the righteousness of gay crusaders the way Sheppard does. There are no Billy Jack Gaither Stories premiering on cable television; no reverential shrines set up in the national gay body politic; no tribute songs; no national foundations in his name.

    In my less cynical moments, I prefer to think that Matthew Sheppard’s legacy is to put a single face on a multifold myriad of victims of antigay violence. Undoubtably, there are other worthy nuns working in the slums of Calcutta, but it is Mother Teresa that stands for them all. Perhaps Sheppard can be thought of as a symbol, the embodiment of people touched by homophobic bigotry. A modern-day St. Sebastian — specifically Caravaggio’s depiction of same: suffering the arrows of societal hatreds for our sake; forever the radiant image of innocence led to slaughter.

    It seems churlish, somehow, to do naught but elevate Matthew Sheppard to near-beatific glorification. Yet he was not Caravaggio’s perfectly-composed saint. He was a human being with human frailties and all-too-familiar foibles. He was young, true, but he had the brashness of youth; the naïveté and unworldliness that — directly or indirectly — got him into trouble in Morocco. He was beset by self-doubt and panic attacks, exacerbated by a restless childhood and the stresses all teenagers go through. None of this excuses or obviates in any way the agonizing way in which he died. But in our rush to canonize Matthew Sheppard, we’d serve his memory far better if we don’t lose sight of his humanity.

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