Matt Shepard is A Friend of Mine
Fifteen years after his murder gained international attention, friend Michele Josue tells about the person behind the martyr in her 85-minute documentary "Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine."
Josue and his high school friends knew him as Matt, and for her, "this story will never grow old, the pain is still fresh, and the hate that killed him is still here today."
The filmmaker blends interviews with readings from Matt's journals, archival photographs and films of his school plays and his family: Younger brother Logan, father Dennis and mom Judy, who said "I knew he was gay since he was eight. He dressed as Dolly Parton for Halloween."
The family moved to Saudi Arabia for work in 1993. Since there were no English schools in Dhahran, Matt went to a Swiss boarding school starting in the tenth grade, where he became close with Josue and several other interviewees.
These high school friends recollected that Matt could fit into any group, was always the center of attention, and was voted friendliest in his class. He loved doing plays because "on stage he felt safe, a little more in charge" and "he knew he would be famous one day."
In life he was playing a role too, only being out as gay to one guidance counselor yet none of his friends. "The closer you are to someone, the harder it is to come out to them," one observed.
Josue believes a school trip moved Matt from being an extrovert to a victim, because in Morocco he was robbed and raped by six men. "He became broken," she said, and he tried several U.S. colleges after high school graduation while his parents remained abroad. As a freshman, he came out to his parents on separate occasions. They were both very accepting. "He's still my son," recalled Dennis about their conversation.
Matt ended up at college in Laramie, Wyoming, a small town where he felt safe. After an LGBT club meeting, he went to the Fireside Bar alone for a drink. Two men pretended to be gay in order to rob him. "He was innocent, his let his guard down," a friend observed. And, at five feet, two inches, weighing 100 pounds, and still wearing braces, "he was an easy target."
The pair led him to a remote area, tied him to a fence, and crushed his skull with repeated blows from the handle of a gun. Eighteen hours later, the now-unrecognizable 21-year-old died.
Judy was horrified by the then-novel funeral protests and media frenzy, noting that, "if it bleeds, it leads." Matt's parents famously asked that the death penalty not be given to the convicted killers. "I give you life and may you thank Matthew every day for it," said Dennis. On October 28, 2009, President Obama signed into law the Matt Shepard Hate Crimes Act.
In her film, Josue urges this generation of advocates to "get to know your Matt now," as she shares one of his journal entries:
I miss yesterday so much. It seems like when it was happening all I could think about was tomorrow, and that today just whipped past me and turned into yesterday.
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