Here we are almost eleven years after Matthew Shepard’s horrific murder in Laramie, Wyoming and the rate of hate crimes is once again rising. You don’t have to quote statistics – if you somehow miss it in the daily news, you can still smell the acrid stench of violence in the air from Tel Aviv to Fort Worth. The grisly image of a young man lying bloody in a field, his head caved in from repeated blows and his hands tied to a barbed wire fence has gone unheeded.
Judy Shepard, however, remembers. And in her work with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, she continues to bring a message of hope and help in the name of her son. Her book, The Meaning of Matthew, is proof of those memories – a plain-spoken, unvarnished recollection of his murder as well as the aftermath, both personal and political. Although the prose is plain, the ordinary language – almost dispassionate in places – makes the sentiment that much more powerful.
The Meaning of Matthew covers the Shepard family immediately following the crime and continues through the trial of Shepard’s murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, taking us to Matt’s funeral as well as the establishment of the Foundation that bears his name. It does so with honesty and purpose, looking at all sides of Matt’s personality. It neither whitewashes nor glorifies him, presenting him instead as a normal guy with the faults we all possess.
Far from being a depressing read, the book ends on a constructive note as Judy Shepard channels her grief into a force for positive change. It chronicles the making of a gay rights activist, one with a very personal stake in her cause. So, this is a book which deserves to be read. Read it for Lawrence King. Read it for Angie Zapata. Read it for Brandon Teena. Read it for August Provost. Read it to re-discover your anger, and then do something about it – something that enriches our community and moves it forward.
Because getting the rights we deserve is the best revenge of all.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler