by James Tidmarsh
As 18-year-old Matthew Shepard lie in his hospital bed, struggling to hold onto his life, a rumor began to circulate on conservative websites and elsewhere; the 1998 beating, in which Shepard was tied to a fence post in a Wyoming field and left to die, didn’t have anything to do with his sexuality at all. Instead, the rumor said, “It was a drug deal that had gone bad.”
We will never know how Matthew Shepard would have responded to the rumor. He died in his hospital bed a few days after the beating. What we do know is that even though there was absolutely no truth to it the lie continues to persist in the blogosphere and even sometimes in mainstream media today.
Fast forward almost 13 years after Shepard’s death. While trying to recover from a broken jaw and other injuries he suffered outside of a Salt Lake city night club, 20-year-old Dane Hall awoke yesterday to the headline in The Salt Lake Tribune that “Drugs not Gay Hatred..” may have sparked his attack.
Why the Tribune chose to run the story we will never know, but what is clear is that the piece was fueled by sensationalism and insensitivity. By running the piece, without having any evidence to support their headline, the newspaper apparently gave little thought to other victims of similar attacks, let alone to Hall.
Attacking the victim of a crime isn’t anything new, the conservative fascist army is well trained in such tactics; the narrative is almost always the same. Crimes committed because of race, gender and sexuality are almost always the victim’s fault.
In response to yesterday’s article, Salt Lake City’s Chief of Police called a press conference. According to QSalt Lake, Utah’s only independent LGBTQ news magazine, Chris Burbank “denied that a theory related to drugs held any more credence than other theories and all avenues are still being investigated. “
The article also prompted Hall, the victim, to have to speak out in defense of his own character and story. In a statement released to to the Tribune through his attorney yesterday afternoon, Hall writes “All I know is that I was attacked and that I heard my attacker shouting gay slurs during the attack. I hope the police can find out who did this and why, but this had nothing to do with drugs.”
In the statement Hall’s lawyer also writes, “Hall underwent a blood test immediately after the attack, and it showed there were no illicit narcotics in Hall’s system and he did not have any illegal drugs in his possession.”
No victim of any crime should ever have to worry about defending his or her character to a newspaper or anybody else without sufficient proof. Lets hope the Tribune’s article doesn’t cause other victims of such crimes to choose to stay silent for fear of a second attack by rumors, speculation and the media.
James Tidmarsh is the editor of The Idaho Agenda. He has contributed to several LGBTQIA online publications over the years, as well as written and produced several LGBTQIA focused radio shows and news stories in Boise, Twin Falls and for SiriusXM OUTQ Satellite radio. He is the current News Director of TownSquare Media-Twin Falls. The Idaho Agenda also has a Facebook Page.