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Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Little Bibliography: Op-ed statements on the Shepard beating

Matt's beating and murder in 1998 couldn't have come at a more timely point in terms of stirring up some seriously wicked national debate on GLBT rights.  When you look at some of the national discourse at this time-- questions about DOMA, Trent Lott's comparison between homosexuality and kleptomania, the ex-gay movement's advertising campaign--  Shepard's death was like dropping a piece of hot slag in the middle of a munitions plant.  That's where my frustration with the politics surrounding the Shepard case comes from: once everything exploded, there was no easy way to sort the productive from the non-productive dialogue, and for every passionate and reasoned call for change, there were so many others just spewing about their own brand of incandescent hate on both sides.

In a real way, even though I adore him as a playwright and I understand the source of all that fury, Tony Kushner's response to Matt's death was just as frustrating to me as Trent Lott's: neither seemed to think far enough beyond their own concerns to see the real human beings on the other side.  The fulminate rage in Kushner's rhetoric in his editorial makes me flinch.  For all his condemnation of those "savor[ing] the unsavory details" of the Shepard murder, Kushner just seems to me to use Matt Shepard as a grisly trope, a blunt object he can hit back at the Republicans with in retaliation.  If you're arguing for human rights and the equal dignity of all people,  I don't see the point of slapping somebody upside the head with a real human being.  I have the same problem with anti-abortion activists driving around in trucks with pictures of butchered babies on the sides: neither approach provides space for compassion, understanding or forgiveness-- and it certainly doesn't uphold the dignity of the real human beings whose lives are at stake. 

In any case, a few of the more notable responses I have attached here as a short bibliography if you're interested.  From a literary standpoint, obviously those by Kushner and Vidal will be of the most interest.  But the one that piques my own curiosity is Paul Capetz' meditation on the church as a ground of reconciliation between gays, lesbians and straight Christians.  His response is provocative, unwavering, and, knowing what has happened within the Presbyterian church (my current church home) since this was written, it's an interesting bit of prophecy.  He also recognizes the humanity on both sides of the debate and speaks in love even as he calls passionately for change.  Please, no matter your personal conviction, give his argument a fair read.  Full bibliography (with references to Wyoming letters, too) after the jump...

Working Bibiliography:

Akintunde, Omowale. "A Letter to Matthew." Multicultural Perspectives 6.4 (2004): 49-52.

Alter, Jonathan.  "Trickle-Down Hate."  Newsweek 26 Oct 1998: 44.   [linked in full text here.]

Capetz, Paul E. "The Gospel According to Matthew Shepard: The Theme of Reconciliation in 'The Confession of 1967' from the Perspective of the Unreconciled." Network News 22.1 (2002): 8.  [Also linked in full text here.]

 Kushner, Tony. "Matthew's Passion." Nation 09 Nov. 1998: 4+.  [Also linked in full text here.]

Leavitt, David.  "The Hate Epidemic."  New York Times Late Edition 18 Oct 1998: Sec. 4.15.  

Torricelli, Robert, Sen., Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. Ron Wyden.  "Why America Needs Federal Legislation Against Hate Crimes."  Austin American Statesman 26 Oct. 1998: A11.

Vidal, Gore. "J'accuse!" Advocate 24 Nov. 1998: 9.

Opinions/Reactions from Wyoming:

With the performance of Ten Years Later, there has been a lot of talk recently about how Wyoming residents reacted to the news of Matt's beating, and later, his murder.  Perhaps there is no substitute for seeing what we were thinking for yourself.  Of all the state newspapers, really only the Cheyenne Wyoming Tribune-Eagle is consistently indexed on LexisNexis as far as I can tell, but between being just on the other side of the Pass from Laramie and home to the state capitol, it gives a fairly good mix of opinions.
The following will give you a great read on how locals reacted and their common concerns, how non-locals proceeded to enter into the discussion, and how fast the backlash against the national portrayal of the incident started. What I think you will see, and fairly quickly, is that The Laramie Project interviewees, on balance, reflect this batch of editorials fairly well.  We have everything from the moralist anti-gay response to downplaying the hate crime angle on the one hand, and thoughtful, impassioned responses to his murder on the other. Also, a few out-of-staters condemning Wyoming for what are really their own prejudices.  A little bit of agony and ectsasy rolled together-- just like the play itself. 

The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle is actively indexed on Lexis-Nexis Academic if you want to read these.

Various authors.  Opinion page.   Wyoming Tribune-Eagle 13 Oct 1998: A9.
This is the earliest set of letters to the editor I can find in Lexis-Nexis.  The remarkable thing is that a few of these are from the religious community speaking against the violence. 
---.  Opinion page.  Wyoming Tribune-Eagle 14 Oct 1998: A11.
This is a great place to see a lot of the reaction from real Wyoming residents to the murder (and to other editorials) a week after the attack.  Please note the mention of the robbery motive a day after he died and the editorial from Texas calling Wyoming "in the dark ages." That's going to get things really stirred up...
---.  Opinion page.   Wyoming Tribune-Eagle 15 Oct. 1998:A11.
Note the extremely large number of out-of-state letters mixed in with Cheyenne locals in this batch.  The first reactions to Matt's death are in here.
---.  Opinion page. Wyoming Tribune-Eagle 18 Oct 1998: A13. 
I'm afraid this is not a very flattering batch of letters.  First responses to the Texas letter are here.
---.  Opinion page.  Wyoming Tribune-Eagle 20 Oct 1998: A8-A9.
Let the flame-thrower war begin.  Harsh reactions to both the funeral protesters and the previous week's letters to the editor. The editor notes here that they have received over 160 letters on the Shepard murder from out-of-staters. 


From a KKK Counter-protest in Athens, Alabama, from Gregory.Skibinski' s Flickr Photostream: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
(This is one of the most awesome things I've ever seen.  Somebody get me a big yellow poster!)


  1. What a stunning picture (and a beautiful post, too). I haven't been by your blog in a while but noticed you were part of the RBU team and thought I would stop by and say hello. I haven't read Kushner's editorial but you make a good point about using real people's tragic stories to further one's own aims. It feels exploitive.

    I love the picture above because I think the best way to respond to hate, ultimately, is with love, or at least with an absence of malice. I wrote a post last month called God Hates Donuts ( about the response in SF to a Fred Phelps protest that I thought was simply brilliant. Apparently a lot of people thought so because it's gotten more hits than anything else I've posted, and I think it's because the message really resonated with people...that you can't conquer hate with hate, only with love. I've got you tucked in my reader now so I'll catch your posts from now on.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, kbxmas! Credit for that amazing picture, though, goes to Greg skibinski, who is the kind of photographer I hope I can be someday. His Flickr photostream is full of the most beautiful pictures:

    I totally agree with you about how to handle people like Phelps-- you can't fight hate with hate. It doesn't work. Love is the only thing that can conquer-- love, and seeing the people who stand across from you, not as categories or enemies or the damned, but as human beings just like you. Once you do that, it throws the whole world upside-down.

    Strangely enough, that's exactly what the Jesus tells his disciples to do, too, in the gospels. Funny that Phelps never read that part, isn't it...?