We’re living in “woke” times. That doesn’t mean we should accept at face value that every hate crime is really a hate crime. In a new edition of The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard (Truth to Power, 480 pages, $19.95), first published in 2013, award- winning journalist, author, and producer Stephen Jimenez counters the accepted narrative surrounding a high-profile case that received international attention.
Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was pistol-whipped, tortured, and left for dead outside Laramie, Wyoming, on October 6, 1998. He succumbed to his injuries six days later. Shepard became a symbol for LGBTQ rights and the expansion of hate crime laws to include gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Jimenez’s book draws on more than a hundred interviews with those who knew the men involved, including the detectives whose own investigation contradicts the hate crime angle. The author makes the case that Shepard and Aaron McKinney, one of two men tried for his murder, were part of a crystal meth drug trade and that Shepard was a user and dealer. Shepard was, in Jimenez’s view, murdered by men he knew well in the midst of a drug deal gone awry.
The new edition, available on Tuesday, June 30, includes an introduction by Andrew Sullivan, a former editor at The New Republic who championed the right for same-sex couples to marry. His take on Jimenez’s investigation — “Not only did no one want to hear more about it, but many were incensed that the case was being reexamined at all” — is that it rends the curtain to reveal an unfortunate truth, that doesn’t negate the seriousness or import of anti-gay sentiments.
Jimenez and Sullivan don’t question the need for hate crime legislation or the ultimate good that’s come out of the terrible crime. When it was initially published, Jimenez faced harsh criticism, readings were boycotted, and he was accused of revisionism. The changes in this new edition address that.
Jimenez joins Mark Crispin Miller, journalism professor at New York University, for a free Zoom discussion on The Book of Matt at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 30. The event is sponsored by Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse (202 Galisteo St., 505-988-4226). Click on the link on the events page at collectedworksbookstore.com.