In a little over a month, I am told by this morning’s newspaper, the university will host a performance called “Considering Matthew Shepard,” which it describes as a “musical response to the tragic death of a young man” interspersed with “the thoughts of poets and selections from Shepard’s journal and his parent’s writing.” The newspaper reminds those who may have forgotten that Shepard was, nearly twenty years ago, “beaten, tortured and tied to a fence,” that he died of his injuries six days later, and that he suffered this gruesome fate “because of his sexual orientation.” The advertised event will memorialize this brutal homicide in a “truly heartfelt story” that combines “incredible voices” and a “very important message” in an “an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Let me begin by saying that I don’t think there are any good reasons why anyone should be “beaten, tortured and tied to a fence,” especially in October in “the bleak countryside outside Laramie, Wyoming.” Just to make myself perfectly clear, I do not allow an exception when the reason for doing this is a strong objection to “sexual orientation,” or when the person tied to the fence is homosexual. My opposition to beating, torturing and tying to fences is categorical.
Let me add that I have no objection to Craig Hella Johnson writing this musical tribute, to the chorale ensemble Conspirare performing it, or to the use of Rudder Theater (seating capacity 2,500) to stage it (twice). Moreover, I hope any representatives of the Westboro Baptist Church who might infiltrate the audience and disrupt the performance with rude heckling will be ejected without any tender regard for their comfort or dignity. “Denial of platform” is the tool of cowards, martinets, and saboteurs of the human spirit (which is to say, the Left).
With those testimonials out of the way, I must ask why this gruesome killing is being extravagantly memorialized nearly twenty years later, in an auditorium a thousand miles from Laramie, before an audience of thousands who never knew this obscure and unfortunate young man. And I must answer that it is because the death of Matthew Shepard has been made into a modern myth.
This is evident when we read that the story of Matthew Shepard conveys a “very important message,” which means that his death is significant, rather than simply stupid, sordid, and sad. This death is unlike the deaths of almost all of the other young men whose lives have been cut short senselessly, violently, and without public lamentation.
What is this message? According to the webpage of the Matthew Shepard foundation, it has something to do with “embracing diversity” and “erasing hate,” and presumably also with society’s shameful failure to clasp diversity to its bosom and expunge hate from the land. In other words, the message is that everyone is guilty for the death of Matthew Shepard, and the only means of redemption is to join the progressive crusade.
Anyone who digs a little more deeply into the circumstances of Matthew Shepard’s death will discover that these circumstances were considerably more complicated, and that many of them seem to have been of the stupid and sordid variety.
I’ve known homosexuals like Matthew Shepard, and there is a good chance you have as well. The ones I knew were highly promiscuous, addicted to drugs, and of astonishingly poor judgment (I suspect owing to acute narcissism). When I was living in Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s, I knew a young man who went by the name of Rhonda (birth name Ronald). He even looked like Matthew Shepard. So far as I know, Rhonda did not wind up bleeding on a fence, but if he had, no one would have been surprised.
I’m not sure society could mount a crusade that would make the world safe for Rhonda, and if it could, I’m not sure Rhonda would like that world. From what I’ve read, the same might be said about Matthew Shepard.