More than 25 years ago, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten, tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming and left for dead.

When the gay-identified college student died five days later, he had already become what The New York Times called “an overnight symbol of deadly violence against gay people.”

Matthew Shepard’s martyrdom benefited many.

Former New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney once claimed:

Shepard is to gay rights what Emmett Till was to the civil rights movement.

“Gay leaders” told the Times they “hoped Mr. Shepard’s death will galvanize Congress and state legislatures to pass hate-crime legislation or broaden existing laws.”

President Bill Clinton invoked Shepard’s name in support of his proposed “Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” which passed in 2009 as the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act.”

Shepard’s murderer, Aaron McKinney, used the Shepard’s same-sex attraction to defend himself in court, arguing Shepard’s romantic advances caused him to fly into a panicked, murderous rage.

The young man’s memory continues to bring millions of dollars into progressive activism. In 2022, the Matthew Shepard Foundation received more than $1.1 million in donations.

Shepard’s remains now rest in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.

A growing body of evidence, however, suggests the legend of Matthew Shepard is just that — a legend.

An investigative piece from the Free Press’s Ben Kawaller unearths oft-dismissed facts suggesting McKinney murdered Shepard over drugs and money — not his sexual behavior.

According to decades of research and interviews by journalist Stephen Jimenez, a gay-identified man, McKinney and Shepard knew each other through meth trafficking rings in the area. McKinney expected Shepard would receive a regularly scheduled shipment of the drug on October 7, 1998. Cash-strapped, he sought to rob Shephard of the profits.

Evidence of these events have been circulating since McKinney’s trial in 1999.

Jiminez began his investigation during the trial, when he read an anonymous letter submitted to the court alleging McKinney’s “gay panic” defense was a farce.

He introduced his findings in 2004 on a segment of ABC’s 20/20 and he published the Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard in 2013.

Going on 24 years later, the public and mainstream media continue to prioritize a convenient lie of their own making.

It’s no wonder. Jimenez’s account of events called into question the very foundations of Matthew’s martyrdom and, in doing so, a key figure in the gay rights movement.

The journalist interviewed witnesses suggesting McKinney had relationships with both men and women, including, potentially, Shepard himself. The killer had also been high on meth for over a week when he attacked Shepard, according to Jimenez — explaining not only the violence Shepard endured but the three subsequent fights McKinney picked with straight men.

Jiminez told NPR in 2013:

I certainly did not write the book to make the case that [Shepard’s murder] wasn’t a hate crime. I wrote this book so that I could examine the complex set of circumstances, the entanglements that existed behind this crime. …

Based on all the research and investigation I’ve done, it’s that Aaron McKinney wanted the drugs and the money that he believed that Matthew Shepard was in possession of that night. And Aaron assaulted four males in a 24-hour period. One of them was against a gay male, and the other three were against straight males but somehow, we can isolate this and say this was an anti-gay hate crime?

Despite Jimenez repeated efforts, and the testimonies of Laramie citizens and police officers, the legend of Matthew Shepard remains largely untouched in the public imagination.

Kawaller, who is gay-identified himself, writes:

Somehow, it wasn’t until 2019 that I caught wind of Jimenez’s argument. I immediately bought his book and devoured it in disbelief: How in the hell could so many of us believe a story, that, upon investigation, appears to be fundamentally untrue.

The myth of Matthew’s martyrdom leaves many with no incentive to consider with the truth. It so neatly confirms what many gay-identified people perceive to be dangerous and hostile world — both in 1998 and today. What’s more, it elicits incalculable political and monetary support for progressive policy goals even 25 years later.

But false narratives are not without their consequences. Kawaller recalls how Shepard’s death made him fearful of the Midwest — which was unjustly labeled a hub of homophobia.

The legend of Matthew Shepard continues to deceive many — obscuring what really caused his tragic death, and dragging a town through mud it has been largely unable to wash away.

Christians are not in the business of comfortable falsehoods. We pursue truth because truth comes from and abides in God. That’s why the Daily Citizen encourages readers ad nauseum to do your own research and, as always, be careful what you read.

The Holy Sprit’s discernment and a little bit of elbow grease could well keep you from falling prey to deceptions of your own.

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