The same day, the Times ran an unsigned editorial comparing Shepard’s death to the lynching of blacks and that his murder “may do much to dispel the stubborn belief in some quarters that homosexuals are not discriminated against. They are. Hatred can kill.”
Over the next few weeks, Times columnist Frank Rich went hammer and tongs after conservative Christians, who he targeted as the reason Shepard was killed. In particular, he went after the Family Research Council, which had been running television advertising encouraging gays to reconsider their way of life; or, as Rich described it, a campaign “to demonize gay people for political gain in this election year.”
Time Magazine was a big deal in those days, and their cover story for the week of October 19th was huge. Headlined “That’s Not a Scarecrow,” the Time story ran on the cover and garnered global attention. The short Time story also fingered the religious right for the attack on Shepard.
The religious imagery began almost immediately. Shepard was left dangling on a fence, still alive, just like Christ on the cross. A long Vanity Fair piece from the following spring was entitled “The Crucifixion of Matthew Shepard.” At his funeral, Reverend Royce W. Brown compared the fence Matthew was tied to with the cross of Christ: ''There is an image that comes to mind when I reflect on Matt on that wooden cross rail fence. I replace that image with that of another man hung upon a cross. When I concentrate on that man, I can release the bitterness inside.'' A pastor in Kirkland, Washington actually gave a sermon called, “Matthew Shepard Died for Our Sins.”
Such comparisons became so universal that a writer for Harper’s Magazine rejected the “quasi-religious characterizations of Matthew’s passion, death, and resurrection as patron saint of hate-crime legislation”
Shepard became not just a saint, he was manipulated to be a tool. He was instrumentalized to castigate opponents of the gay agenda and to advance federal and state hate-crimes legislation. We were told endlessly that Wyoming and many other states, along with the federal government, did not protect homosexuals from such hate-crimes.
Even before Shepard died, President Bill Clinton used his attack to advance federal legislation. “I was deeply grieved by the act of violence perpetrated against Matthew Shepard," Clinton said. "There is nothing more important to this country than our standing together against intolerance, prejudice and violent bigotry.” Take that Family Research Council. When a federal hate crimes bill was later signed by President Obama, it was named for Matthew Shepard.
And not just in politics, the gods of popular culture have lauded Shepard. Elton John sang to raise money for the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Lady Gaga sang John Lennon’s "Imagine" and rewrote the lyrics to include, “Imagine there’s no Heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, and only Matthew in the sky [emphasis added]."The Laramie Project, one of three made-for-TV movies about his life and death, is now a road show. It will appear in Washington, D.C. in the coming days.
Jiminez’s book utterly changes the narrative, not just about Shepard’s life but also his death. Will these new revelations in any way change the cult of Matthew? They ought to, but they probably won’t. What will likely happen is that the gay establishment will castigate Jiminez, and the business of St. Matthew Shepard Inc. will continue unabated.
But the inconvenient facts remain. Matthew was not killed by gay bias, gay hatred, or by the religious right. He was killed by a sometimes sex partner who wanted his drugs. This was known at the time and ignored. And why not? After all, a martyr would be a terrible thing to waste.