Rating: 5/5 stars.
The name Matthew Shepard brings to mind gay rights, hate crimes, and a brutal death brought upon by ignorance. But in The Meaning of Matthew, Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, points out an important fact: Matthew wasn’t perfect, an angel, or a saint. He was human.
Early reports almost deified Matt, presenting him as a martyr of sorts – a kid who could do no wrong who had been crucified for being gay. But like any living human, Matt was far from a saint. Matt’s murder wasn’t horrific because it ended an angelic life but because it ended a very human life riddled with all the complexities and contradictions each of us face.
Not only does Judy Shepard delineate Matt’s death and the trial against his murderers, more importantly, she delves into what made Matthew Shepard shine as a person. She does so with quiet passion and the love of a mother. Her voice never dulls or dims, but it approaches every aspect of her son’s life with care and honesty.
I hate to say this, as a mother, but I don’t think I would have been a compassionate parent if I’d found out about his HIV status under normal circumstances. I would have been angry and disappointed that Matt hadn’t been more careful. I’m not sure I would have been able to resist the urge to say, “Dammit! You promised you would always be careful!” I’m sure I would have been more understanding with time, but my initial reaction may not have been one of compassion.
Judy Shepard sublimates her grief by taking a stand on important issues within the gay community. I only disagree with her stance on the death penalty, but she still presents her arguments respectfully. Of course she’s also created the The Matthew Shepard Foundation to support individuals of the GLBTQ spectrum.
Curtis’s questions were clearly attempting to steer the jury into believing that a gay man could send a straight man – or even two straight men – into a murderous fury simply by flirting.
That, at its core, is what’s wrong with the gay panic defense Tangeman and Custis were trying to use. If making an unwarranted pass were a good excuse for killing someone, there would be a lot more straight men out there getting murdered.
Overall, I would recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in learning more about Matthew Shepard – not just the murder that made his name famous, but who he was as a person. I cried watching The Laramie Project and still learned a lot from reading Judy Shepard’s brave book. My five-star rating does not represent just how much I enjoyed her story. It exemplifies the quality of her efforts in improving the lives of those around her.