In a country that doesn't (officially) recognize state-sponsored religion, whose Constitution says "all men are created equal," where bigotry and bias are abhorred — why do otherwise intelligent and sensitive people feel they can engage in hate speech against gay people?

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Saturday, November 27, 2004

"She Fails."

Chris Bull, senior political correspondent at planetout.com, accesses ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas's success at unearthing a new justification for Mathew Shepard's murder. He gives ample reasons why Vargas's strained arguments are suspect, but he summarizes the broader point nicely when he says, "She fails."

When Hate Isn't Hate
...What new light could correspondent Elizabeth Vargas shed on the now mythical story? She reports, portentously, that in the months before his death, Shepard was deeply troubled. He tested HIV-positive. He had been beaten and raped by three strangers during a family vacation. This trauma, she speculates, had caused the depressed and withdrawn 21-year-old to turn to crystal meth. Aaron McKinney, she suggests with little evidence, was bisexual and acquainted with Shepard.

The problem with these sensational tidbits (with no relevance to the murder) is that they had already been widely reported in a far more timely fashion. The real justification for the new look are prison interviews with McKinney and his co-conspirator, Russell Henderson, both of whom are serving double life sentences.

As any experienced crime reporter knows, relying uncritically on the testimony of convicted killers can lead to distortions, especially since the only person who knows the truth has been eliminated. McKinney and Henderson, it soon becomes clear, are desperate to make the case that their crime was not motivated by hate after all. Shepard died "not because me and Aaron had anything against" homosexuals, Henderson claims.

Instead, the men, egged on by Vargas, contend that a combination of meth-fueled rage and a desire to rob Shepard for drug money motivated Henderson to lash Shepard to a deer fence while McKinney bashed him with the butt of a handgun until his face — a mass of bruises and blood — was unrecognizable to his own mother.

There you have it: The world according to "20/20." The world's most famous gay-bashing was not a gay-bashing at all. Gay activists had labored for half a century to draw attention to the role of lethal animus in attacks on gay men. Now, in an hour-long report, Vargas labors to debunk that compelling narrative in the case that has come to exemplify it.

She fails. At the trial, McKinney's lawyers invoked "gay panic defense," claiming that McKinney, shielding a gun behind his back, became enraged when Shepard put his hand on his leg during a truck ride. Now McKinney says he and his lawyers concocted the defense to save his skin.

Vargas quotes a meth expert to demonstrate that the highly addictive stimulant can trigger homicidal rages. Had Vargas been interested in balance, she would have turned to an anti-gay violence expert, who would have provided a far more credible explanation. In fact, it is extreme prejudice that causes young men not only to kill; hatred drives them to obliterate their victims, an urge known as "overkill." It strains credulity to believe that the sadistic torture and highly symbolic stamping out of Shepard (was) the mere result of (a) drug binge.

I spent 2000 in Texas on a fellowship, examining a string of 28 anti-gay killings. These cases were, without exception, eerily similar to Shepard's. Young men, fueled by drugs and/or alcohol, believing it a harmless diversion, searched for gay men to harass and rob. Based on anti-gay stereotypes, they believed that gays carried lots of cash, were easy to overpower and unlikely to report attacks to police, who tended to look the other way.

Once apprehended, these young men invariably claimed they had been propositioned and were only defending themselves. They believed they were doing society a favor by ridding it of one more queer. One teenager said he "felt like an executioner" when he pulled the trigger that killed. They expressed shock when they learned that their crime might actually land them behind bars for the rest of their lives.

That it took a complicated mix of lethal motives to trigger murder in no way made these killings any less a product of savage bigotry. To minimize any part of this equation is to do a disservice both to the truth and to efforts to prevent this deadly cycle of violence and societal prejudice that took the lives of Matthew Shepard and hundreds of more anonymous victims.

Perhaps it is sign of progress that McKinney and Henderson would rather be known as drug-addled killers than hate-inspired killers. Perhaps, looking back through a drug-induced haze, they really believe their new story. It is far harder to understand how a team of highly regarded journalists could facilitate a return to the days of denial.

Read the entire article here -->


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ABC: Another Bad Creation
Can of Worms
ABC's Hindsight Less Than 20/20
What's the Difference?
New Study Validates Same-Sex Parenting
He Just Got It
Urgent: Respond to ABC News
Spite, Vengeance, Resentment: Christian Values?
ABC News: The Hate Criminals' Best Ally
Church(es) of the Poisoned Minds


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