When a cyclist found Matthew Shepard’s body he initially mistook his lifeless form for a scarecrow.
Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming native who was the victim of a heinous hate crime in 1998, has since become an anti-discrimination icon. While attending the University of Wyoming, the 21-year-old was lured into a car by two men, who later tortured him, lit him on fire and left him to die tied up to a fence post near Laramie.
While there are many instances of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, Shepard’s death caught international media attention that sparked conversation about discrimination, inspired books, movies and songs, and helped bring new laws into effect. A decade later President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.
But while Shepard has become a modern gay martyr, he didn’t die that way. He died a son, brother and friend. The documentary “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine” shows that side of Shepard — Matt Shepard the human.
On Thursday, Wyoming Equality is bringing the documentary to Teton County Library as part of a statewide film tour.
“We wanted to provide a space for the community to watch the movie and feel comfortable talking about the LGBTQ issues that are brought up in the movie,” said Sheyla Leiva, an intern at Wyoming Equality.
Director Michele Josue shows Shepard through the eyes of his friends and family, and even got a look into Shepard’s diary.
“The movie shows Matt the human, rather than just this iconic person,” Leiva said. “He could have been our friend, somebody’s son or brother.”
The screening is also part of Teton County Library’s Power Trip series, which kicked off last month with a presentation by Yale sociology professor Justin Farrell about his research on Teton County’s income inequality and how that affects access to nature.
The series highlights “the different and shapeshifting manifestations of power from racism to sexism to inequality,” said library Adult Programs Coordinator Leah Shlachter. “The series is the library’s response to canceling the Page to the Podium presentation with author Junot Diaz in summer 2018 after sexual assault allegations emerged."
Diaz denied the allegations, and the Pulitzer Prize Board, M.I.T. and Boston Review have since announced they found no evidence of wrongdoing to sanction Diaz.
“The library is bringing this film to encourage dialogue about LGBTQ issues and shed light not just on the devastating effects of hate crimes, but also on the friendships and love that Matthew Shepard cultivated in his life,” Shlachter said.
“Matthew Shepard’s murder intimately connects Wyoming to the greater national conversation, and this film, made by a close friend, highlights what Matthew Shepard was like as a person, before he became an icon.”
The screening will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Ordway Auditorium at Teton County Library. Susan Scarlata and Leiva will lead a discussion after the film. The event is free to attend.
Power Trip will continue with a #MeToo discussion on April 22 in collaboration with Community Safety Network, and a presentation in September by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, who first introduced and developed theories of “intersectionality.”