Sacred Ground: GSAs, Matthew Shepard and Methamphetamines

Recently in the province of Alberta, Canada,parents were outraged to learn explicit sexual materials had been linked to the Alberta Education approved Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) web support materials. Parents have protested being cut out of their legal, protective role of their children by Alberta Education regarding GSAs.

The response from various gay and lesbian entertainers and pundits has been to smear any who question the restriction on parental concerns about GSAs. I don’t see any expression of concern from these gay activists that minors should not be exposed to explicit sexual materials.

Matthew Shepard is the name frequently cited as a reason for Gay-Straight Alliances being important. Shepard was brutally beaten in Laramie, Wyoming and died on Oct. 12, 1998. The trigger for his beating was said to be ‘gay panic’ — that Matthew had approached a ‘straight’ Aaron McKinney, allegedly a stranger, for a gay sexual encounter. The story goes that McKinney had lost his mind and beaten Matthew to a pulp in a homophobic rage. The rumour that Matthew Shepard had been martyred in a gay-hate crime took off in the press and became gospel.

Steve Jimenez, a bi-racial gay journalist and author spent some 14 years researching the Matthew Shepard story. His extraordinary journey began as he’d completed a screenplay about Matthew’s horrific beating and death, presumably at the hands of red-neck gay-hating lowlifes. As he delivered a screenplay draft to the prosecutor for review, he was directed to recently unsealed court documents. To his surprise, they revealed a handwritten letter that disclosed that Matthew’s own murderer had been his friend and sometime sexual partner. Both young men had been gay hustlers and active drug dealers in the Wyoming underworld of methamphetamines.

Jimenez, stunned by these revelations, proceeded to interview dozens of Wyoming residents and people close to Matthew, ultimately writing a book called “The Book of Matt.” He has been vilified for his efforts by people who prefer to see Matthew Shepard as a crucified saint of the gay movement, instead of a human being who needed help, a boy who had been sexually assaulted as a child, who as a young adult had been charged with child molestation, who was addicted to meth, whose reckless gay hustling led to him getting HIV, and whose involvement in the drug underworld ultimately led to his death.

We know from the stories of Sheldon Kennedy and Theo Fleury and so many more how damaging that early exposure to sexual abuse and inappropriate materials can be — how drugs or alcohol often become a means to hide the shame and bury the pain.

Jimenez concludes that there was a drug turf war going on and someone wanted Matthew out of the picture. Apparently, his murderer, Aaron McKinney worked for another drug family and the night of Matthew’s murder, a rumored shipment had somehow gone awry. Imagine an attempted drug theft or turf warning by McKinney against Matthew turning ugly with the news that McKinney might have HIV from his previous sexual encounters with Matthew.

No one will ever know if that was a trigger as McKinney was psychotically “tweaking” from a post-meth high that night himself and says he can’t remember a thing. Shepard’s murderers were charged with felony murder, not hate crimes.

Wyoming was a major meth-head state in those times; important crime syndicate busts followed in the years after Matthew’s murder.

In Jimenez’ book, he recounts how many times gay men have approached him after public appearances to thank him for bringing these issues of meth addiction and the marginalized gay community to public attention. So, what does it have to do with Alberta and GSAs?

Clearly, young people need parental protection from those who would exploit their curiosity and their vulnerabilities. Matthew Shepard, as a child, was sexually abused, as a young adult, he befriended criminals who took advantage of him. His parents lived overseas. His last desperate call to his mother, perhaps asking for money to pay off a drug debt, ended in tears and an attempted suicide.

Are kids being told the truth of Matthew’s tragic life and death?

We know that conflicts at home often lead to gay and lesbian youth either running away or being kicked out — and then they become cannon fodder for the street scum who will treat them to a life of unsafe sex and street drugs — at risk of ending up like Matthew. Are they being warned of this? Or at school, are concerned parents painted as know-nothing, knuckle-dragging red-necks for daring to ask what’s going on in GSAs?

Alberta — no, America is facing an opioid crisis that Andrew Sullivan describes as being bigger than the AIDs crisis of the 80’s, that is receiving far less attention. In Sullivan’s report, he also refers to a deeply moving article that discusses the tragic loneliness that many young gay men suffer, that may lead them to risky encounters or self-harm, despite the relative openness and tolerance of contemporary society.

Surely there are important lessons to be learned from the tragic background story of Matthew Shepard’s death, the drug-fuelled lives of his perpetrators and the presence or absence of parental support for all three young men.

Parents, for the most part, consider it their sacred duty to shepherd their children to adulthood safely. Alberta Education should not be an impediment to that process.

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Michelle Stirling is a member of CAJ.