Matthew Shepard’s “Hoax”

I was reviewing some posts I had discussed a couple of years ago, and it struck me that this one could use re-posting. This is a reminder to me that some of our leaders live in one world while passing legislation in another.

Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (of he U.S.) was speaking out against the hate crime legislation passed in 2009, which “would expand a federal hate crimes law to include acts motivated by sexual orientation.” (Chicago Trib, 2009) In her speech, she referred to the death of Matthew Shepard in 1998 as having some element of “hoax” associated with it. I could not believe this, myself: the murder of the young man in 1998 shocked many across the U.S. (I then lived in Pennsylvania) because it illustrated how much some people hated gay men, just because of their preferences. I remember it particularly well because that was right about the time that my ex-wife left me and I was planning to come “out of the closet”. Matthew’s only “crime” was that he had come out “too early”, at a younger age, and it scared me.

I listened to Mrs. Foxx’ words (it did not take long to find them: although my original reference no longer existed, but there are plenty of transcripts and recordings even today) as some had recommended: to get the truth. I wanted to decide for myself; it is entirely too easy to hear things out of context today. She had not, obviously, claimed that the murder itself was a hoax: the man was found “robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote, rural area, and left to die.” (Wikipedia) We know that happened. But then what did she say? How could she believe there was any kind of hoax associated with that whole thing?

What she apparently believes is a hoax is that the Mr. Shepard was the victim of a hate crime. “We know that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery; it wasn’t because he was gay… but it’s really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.” (Virginia Foxx: Apr. 27, 2009) Obviously Mrs. Foxx needs to understand better the definition of a hoax. The assailants in this crime were not charged with a hate crime only because such a charge did not exist in the jurisdiction where the murder was committed. Although there were various motivations suggested, the one that stands out as being most consistent and most proven was that they were planning to rob a gay man. “The ‘hoax’ argument is directly contradicted by court testimony by girlfriends of the two men who murdered Shepard. Both girlfriends testified that the killers set out to find and rob a gay man. They befriended Shepard in a bar. The slight Shepard asked them to give him a ride home.” (Seattlepi.com)

Personally, I put this as something similar to denying the holocaust: a person’s moral sense affecting (profoundly) their judgment. I see it all the time. Ms Foxx believes that homosexuality is wrong, and evil. Therefore Mr. Shepard was wrong and… well, not the innocent young man that everyone claims he was. He and his assailants were in a gay bar: and if one evil act happens there, then any evil act can happen there. So Mrs. Foxx would be much more open to anything else (except the primary purpose of the location: what were straight men doing in a gay bar?!!) being the motivation for the murder: robbery, drugs, who knows what else. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is not only less than fully logical, it is unhealthy. She should not be in Congress. I’m glad she’s not representing me.

I remembered being surprised when I read that all this was happening: surprised that the States did not have such hate crime legislation in effect. We do in Canada, and even here it is (or was, in 2001-2) known that 10% of hate crimes are motivated by sexual orientation. I had known this for some time, and I thought it was common knowledge:  I had thus thought that legislation would have easily been passed. When I read up on it, I found this was, in fact, true; but president Bush threatened a veto, so it was pulled. That was back in 2007. I am glad Mr. Obama achieved this as one of his priorities in his first hundred days in office, even if it was over 10 years since the murder happened. I think both incidents will reflect accurately on their authors in posterity.

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