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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Scholarship: First-hand Accounts of the Shepard Tragedy

Now that I've had free time to start back up on bibliographic snooping, I'm starting to find a lot of personal responses to Shepard's death from Laramie witnesses, but what surprised me is to see where these personal experiences are popping up: in trade journals.  It seems that a lot of people in Laramie and Fort Collins who were involved somehow with the Shepard attack looked introspectively at how they personally and their professions were forced to respond.  Douglas Black, for instance, bore the nation's brutal outrage and abuse for months afterward as a university spokesperson in CSU; Dr. Klein felt his professional role seep deeply into his personal life and his family's connections to the killing.  

The exception, of course, is Walt Boulden's recollection of Matt Shepard as a personal friend, which is purely a personal recollection of Matt and was published in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services a year after TLP opened in Denver.  He recalls a strawberry hunting expedition on Casper Mountain with Matt that really humanizes Shepard-- and Walt Boulden, come to think of it.  It's worth a read if you can get hold of it.

In any case, enjoy! 

Black, Douglas. "Straw Men: An Exercise in Virtual Unreality."  American Scholar 69.2 (2000): 93-100.  
As some of you may know, Colorado State University's homecoming parade coincided with Matt Shepard's brief stay before his death at the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.  At some point in the parade, which had a "Wizard of Oz" theme, one float erected a straw man in the truck with the phrase "I'm Gay" spray-painted on its face and "up my ass" on its back.  That was the second attack on Shepard, only this time in the form of a cruel joke, playing out not far from where Matt was struggling to survive.  That stunt cost one Greek organization its charter, and another nearly suffered the same fate. 
Douglas Black worked at CSU in the President's office as a staff member, and he bore the impossible burden of the nation's outrage; almost immediately, Black, as the mouthpiece for the university on this incident, became the focus of national abuse.  Outrage against the float mutated into personal insults and threats to him personally, and the incident left Black feeling personally scarred in much the same way as his childhood bullying had; he also notes, "The most savage attackers were those claiming to speak for tolerance."  His perspective on the way the story traveled, how the university responded, first-hand look at how Cyberspace and messaging technology fueled the outrage and fueled vigilantism and abuse is extremely personal and interesting.  We may be used to this in our Facebook world and Twitterverse, but it was still all new in 1998.  Also, the writing is really, really good.  You can tell what Douglas Black does for a living. 

Boulden, Walt.  "A Tribute to Matthew Shepard."  Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 13.1(2001): 7-14.  
If you want a perspective of Matt Shepard that doesn't involve the typical platitudes but is nevertheless entirely positive, Walt Boulden's tribute in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Services really is rather touching.  Boulden seems to feel he is charged with the impossible task of rescuing Matt's memory from the grave, which is an unfair burden to take on, really; what he eventually produces, however, makes Matt feel more human to me than anything else I've had time to read so far.  
Boulden knew Shepard in Casper and remained friends with him at UW.  There's one particular story of Matt he shares which at first seems a quirky choice-- a tale of hunting for wild strawberries on Casper Mountain-- that offers the reader a tantalizing glimpse into Matt Shepard's personality.  
If you can't find the article, this also serves as the introduction to the book From Hate Crime to Human Rights: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard.  Routledge, 2001.  

Hurst, James C.  "The Matthew Shepard Tragedy: Management of a Crisis."  About Campus 4.3 (1999): 5-11.
 This is the most impersonal recollection of the ones I've read, but that's due especially to the kind of article Hurst is writing.   James Hurst was the VP of student affairs at UW when Matthew Shepard was murdered.  The article explains the university's actions in trying to deal with the sudden crisis on campus it caused, and he details especially what the university president, student organizations, and administration did in the days following the beating to deal proactively with the incident.  This is a great article if you want a backstage peek at how the LGBTA, the university, and the community responded to the hate crime. 
(Oh, and he also mentions that initial reports from the police mention the possibility that the murder was a robbery and/or a hate crime. Simultaneous narratives. Just sayin'. )
Klein, Daniel S.  "What Happened in Laramie."  Annals of Internal Medicine 130.3 (1999): 235-236.
 Daniel Klein is an MD in Laramie and was the county health officer when Matthew Shepard was beaten, and his response to the tragedy is both as a Laramie community member and as a concerned doctor.  His narrative of how his family experienced the crisis shows just how close this community really is, relationally speaking.  Even though he was not the attending physician in the ER that night, his position brought him in the orbit of the murderers, their acquaintances and family, the media, the victim, and the emergency workers who attended to him.  As a personal/professional response to Matt's murder, he gives a good representation of one eyewitness perspective of the Shepard tragedy.  Note especially how the narratives of two previous murders in Laramie, the landscape, and community play in his telling. 

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