John Stoltenberg is a gay-rights activist who lived with the feminist writer Andrea Dworkin until her death in 2005. He’s a long-time supporter of The Laramie Project, but has also blogged positively about The Book of Matt. “Keeping Matthew as the poster boy of gay-hate crime and ignoring the full tragedy of his story has been the agenda of many gay-movement leaders,” he says. “Ignoring the tragedies of Matthew’s life prior to his murder will do nothing to help other young men in our community who are sold for sex, ravaged by drugs, and generally exploited. They will remain invisible and lost.”
Ted Henson is a former lover and long-term friend of Matthew’s. The pair originally met when Matt was growing up in Saudi Arabia. Henson told me he believes that The Book of Matt is “nothing more than the truth” and that he was “never certain” that the murder was an anti-gay hate crime. “I don’t know why there is so much hostility towards Steve,” he told me. “Matt would not have wanted to be seen as a martyr, but would have wanted the truth to come out.”
The debate will no doubt rage on. Matthew Shepard’s murder will always be, for some, a symbol of the hatred many lesbians and gay men face in the US and beyond. The town of Laramie can take some comfort from reacting with such dignity and humanity in the aftermath and lending its name to The Laramie Project, which has changed hearts and minds. But the mystery remains – not so much why Matthew died, but why the gay community, after almost five decades of campaigning for equal rights, relies so fundamentally on the image of the perfect martyr to represent the cause.