The Matthew Shepard Story: An American Hate Crime (2023) Movie Script

A University
of Wyoming student
was out riding
his mountain bike
and he falls down,
looks up,
sees what he thinks
is a scarecrow
or a prank,
just because of Halloween
just around the corner,
which, of course,
this was early October,
and goes over to investigate,
and, of course, was horrified
by what he found.
I can still
see the description of him,
the biker who found him
and thought he was
a scarecrow...
of the deer,
that was keeping him
company all night,
and when he was found,
the deer got up and ran away.
There's just a...
A feeling
of divinity around him.
There's a feeling
of an angelic presence.
This is a child
who was loved and adored,
and in every way,
kind of, the boy next door.
This is a sign of rage,
something very personal,
something very terrifying
about that.
How cold he had to have been
tied to that fence
and not found for 18 hours,
and still be alive.
They then took him
to Ivinson Memorial Hospital,
which is the local
Laramie hospital
to try and see
what they could possibly do.
It was a mystery
to the officers,
okay, "Who is this person?
Who is Matthew Shepard?"
"Hey, Mom,
I'm writing to say hello.
How is everything?
I've been okay,
kinda homesick.
Having trouble with getting
into the swing of things,
but it won't last long,
I hope.
I've been real depressed
and I think it's let-down.
I came back and the weather
was crummy,
and I miss home.
Miss you.
Love, Matt."
Matthew Wayne Shepard was
born on December 1st, 1976.
And even though
he was a little guy,
he had a huge personality.
Matthew was
a very emotional kid,
very empathetic.
My name is Jim Osborn,
and I was a friend
of Matthew Shepard.
The first thing
that I noticed about Matt
is his smile.
He just had this incredible
beaming smile.
My name is Romaine Patterson,
and I was friends
with Matthew Shepard.
Oh, I loved his laugh.
I loved his smile more.
He had a great smile.
It beamed.
He was young.
Looked like
a sweet innocent guy.
Just looked like a nice kid.
It wasn't
just his mouth.
His eyes would kinda light up
and twinkle or sparkle at you,
and it was like
his whole body smiled at you.
Wyoming is like
a sleepy little town.
The whole state
is one sleep little town.
We're the least
populated state in the union.
We're sort of our own
little galaxy here.
We are geographically
We're the 10th largest state
in the country,
but we have
the smallest population.
In 1998, even though
we're watching
Will and Grace,
we are the most conservative
state in America.
Growing up
in the '70s and '80s,
you couldn't be different.
It was a kind of place where,
if you were
a stereotypical cowboy,
working on an oil rig,
you'd fit in.
But it wasn't like growing up
in New York City
or any of the major cities
in the country.
the word "faggot"
was sort of a go-to
whether or not
that had anything to do
with your sexuality or not,
that was just a word
that was used to describe
you as like a loser
or you as a different.
I am from Nebraska,
and I graduated
in high school in 1987.
Even though we were...
You know, Matthew and I lived
in very different cities
but it seemed like
he was a kid
that I very easily
would have been friends with,
could have friends with.
He seemed like somebody
a lot of us knew.
He seemed like your friend
in high school
that probably was gay.
There's no denying
that Matthew was gay
and he knew that.
Like, if you looked
at Matthew,
you saw a gay man.
There was not a...
There was not even an ounce
of straight there.
In 1993,
as Matthew was finishing
his sophomore year
of high school,
his dad got a job
with an oil company
in Saudi Arabia.
As Matthew's family began
to move to Saudi Arabia,
Matthew settled on an American
school in Switzerland.
in the second semester
of his senior year,
he went with some friends
to Morocco.
Morocco at the time,
wasn't perhaps
the tourist destination
that it is today
and it wasn't known
for being particularly safe.
My understanding
of what happened in Morocco
was that on one
particular evening,
Matthew wanted to go out
and see things.
He didn't think,
"Oh, I should go out
with a group of people
in a place that
I'm unfamiliar with."
He just decided,
"I'm gonna go out.
I'm gonna leave the hotel.
I'm gonna wander around.
I'm gonna look at the shops."
Things like that.
That's something
he totally would have done.
And while he was out,
he was snatched.
In Morocco,
a couple of men took Matthew
to a isolated place
and raped him.
At that time,
the idea that a young gay guy
is raped
by a group of adult men,
people couldn't even fathom
that kind of stuff.
And so, Matthew came back
to the hotel,
you know,
immediately told people.
His parents
were contacted,
the police were notified
but they never found
the attackers.
It was a random attack.
They had no idea who did it.
After the attack,
Matthew changed.
He wasn't himself.
I think what happened
is he lost his sense
of safety in the world.
Being assaulted
is a traumatizing experience.
Trauma has deep,
lasting impacts
on someone's development,
their social development,
their emotional development,
their spiritual development,
and people
who experienced trauma
are at risk
of feeling suicidal,
having poor mental health
like depression and anxiety.
In 1995, Matthew graduated
from high school,
returned to the US,
and he decided
to come out to his mom.
I definitely think
that Matt felt comfortable
in his skin
and was comfortable being out.
By the early '90s,
you have good things happening
in the cultural world,
with more representation
with gay people.
How many lawyers did you go
to before you called me?
You're trying
to get rid of her
because she's gay.
I hadn't really come
to terms with my sexuality
until like 1984, '95.
And then, yes,
Ellen DeGeneres is a thing.
I'm gay.
In the late '90s,
there was a great
kind of boom for gay people.
There was more representation
on television.
Ellen had come out.
People fell in love
with Jack on Will and Grace,
an overtly,
outwardly gay character.
A question
of sexual orientation?
The doctor is in.
I think middle America
was becoming more comfortable,
you know, with the thought
that there are gay people
out there and that they are
just regular people.
And I think that gave Matthew
the sense of security
that he wasn't alone
and that he was in fact safe.
Matthew later
bounced around
to a few different places.
He eventually wound up back
in Casper, Wyoming,
his hometown.
I went
to my first year of college
at Casper College
in Casper, Wyoming.
I got to know one
of the instructors on campus.
She called me one day
and she said,
"I got this weird call today
from a therapist.
And he's got a client,
and he would like
to introduce his client
to other young gay people.
Can I send him your way?"
And I said,
"Okay. Sure. Why not?"
And it's this awkward
young man named Matthew.
He's like, "I'm trying
to meet some new people
here in Casper
who are gay too,"
and he was super cute,
but we took him under our wing
and we were like, "Listen,
you're one of us now."
I think depression
was a real issue for Matthew.
I think he was
a manic depressive
so sometimes he was super,
super high
and things were awesome.
"February 23, 1998.
I put the Cherry Creek
to shame tonight.
Walked around in my humble
cute self.
It was fun.
I've really gained
a lot of comfort here."
And then,
there were times were things
were literally the opposite,
where it could not
had been lower for him.
"It's been
a long time since
I've journaled,
but I understand why now.
I'm so depressed."
I think
Matthew really did
try to address
the personal traumas
that he had endured.
He dealt with them the best
that he could,
where he didn't feel bad
about himself,
he didn't blame himself
for the things
that had happened in Morocco.
And he was always, you know,
trying to find
that happy balance.
"I'm gonna call
home tonight and say hello
to my mom and dad.
I miss my family so much.
They're so important to me.
I wish that I could see them
more often."
That spring, Matthew
announced that he was going
to move to Laramie, Wyoming,
and in May he made that move.
He enrolled
at the University of Wyoming,
which is where his parents
had gone to school.
Mathew was pretty happy
in Laramie.
Within the red state,
this college town
was sort of a liberal enclave,
so while he was there,
he met like-minded people,
he was connecting
with friends,
and that's also where he met
Jim Osborn.
I'd see him almost
every single day
in front of the Union,
and there he was,
usually people-watching,
always with his hair just so
and polished look about him,
you know,
just always making sure
that anyone he talked to,
he was very focused on them
and was very present
in that conversation.
He always seemed
to be very confident
and was definitely
outgoing and personable.
I never doubted
"This kid is gonna make
a difference."
So, Tuesday night,
Matt came
to the LGBTA Meeting.
We'd been kinda
putting the final plans
on all of the events
for Gay Awareness Week.
And then, as we did
most weeks after the meeting,
we all agreed,
let's go out for,
you know, dinner
and something to drink after.
And so we did that.
And after we'd been there
for a while at Village Inn,
he said,
"Okay. Well, I'm,
I'm not heading home yet."
And we later learned
that he ended up
at the Fireside.
I can only imagine
that Matthew felt
perfectly safe walking
into the Fireside Lounge.
It's a place
he'd been before.
He knew the bartender.
He had no reason to be
looking over his shoulder
and thinking someone
was gonna do him harm.
The Fireside
was not a gay bar,
but certainly a bar
where gay people
did go from time to time
because we didn't have
a designated gay bar
in the state.
Most of us had a bar or two
that we could go out to
and feel relatively safe.
I had been to the Fireside.
It was nothing special.
Matt says
he saw Matthew Shepard
leave the bar with two men.
Although he didn't see
their faces on the way out,
he's confident
that those two men
were the same who were paying
with coins for their pitchers,
because he didn't see
those guys around after that.
after midnight
in a neighborhood
just north of town,
a resident wakes up
and hears a hissing sound.
So he goes outside
to investigate.
What he finds is that
his tire has been slashed.
He calls the police.
That's around 12:40 a.m.,
and lets them know he thinks
someone has slashed his tire.
At that time, the officer
was about four blocks
from the house where the tires
were slashed,
he sees two guys behaving
kinda strangely
in this black Ford
pickup truck.
And they're sitting there
and they aren't moving.
It's well
past midnight,
there aren't many
people out and about.
He's out looking for people
who just slashed
somebody's tire.
And so he shines
a light on them,
announces it's police.
He thought they could have
been the suspects
in the tire slashing.
Russell Henderson
was somebody
who came from a family
that had been
in Laramie a long time.
By all accounts,
was a pretty good kid
up until late teens.
He was an Eagle Scout.
He was raised
by his grandmother.
His mother had some issues.
While he was living
with his grandmother,
he was dating a University
of Wyoming student
named Chastity Paisley.
And there's blood
on him.
So the officer
asks Henderson,
what happened to your left?
He tells the officer
a pretty confusing story.
Russell says that they got
jumped by two men
who he describes
as a White guy
and a Hispanic guy,
and that they'd been beaten
up pretty badly by them.
Russell said
that the other two guys,
the White guy
and the Hispanic guy
had run off.
So, he's asked,
"Okay, well who were you with?
Because we think
you're involved in some
of this vandalism
that we've heard about
in the area."
It seems Russell
is telling the police officer
that he was not involved
in the tire slashing.
He won't name anyone's names,
including the guy
who the officer
just saw run away.
Russell was hesitating
to tell the officer
who the truck belonged to.
And finally he says, "Well,
I was with Aaron McKinney."
Aaron McKinney
was a young man
who had grown up in Laramie.
His parents were divorced.
Anderson met Aaron McKinney
at some point
and they were roofers
Aaron McKinney
was dating someone
named Kristen Price,
and the two of them had
recently had a baby together.
Aaron's mother had died
a few years earlier,
actually from complications
from a hysterectomy.
And that actually
led to him inheriting
quite a bit of money
due to a life
insurance policy,
and unfortunately,
he used a lot of that money
on drugs
and poor behavior.
In the early '90s,
crystal meth
arrived in Wyoming
in a big way.
For someone like
Aaron McKinney,
who thought of himself
as a bad boy to start with
and had money in his pocket
to burn,
it's not so surprising
that he wound up
becoming one
of the army of people
who became addicted to meth.
So the officer
continues talking
to Russell Henderson
and he says,
Aaron McKinney got cracked
with a stick or something
when they got jumped.
And Russell Henderson,
he's got a gash in his lip
and there's blood on him.
So, the officer
also broadcasts out
the descriptions
of the men who Russell
told him about, this white guy
and Hispanic guy
who supposedly jumped them.
Right now everyone thinks
that those two men
could be responsible not
just for vandalizing the tire,
but also for attacking
Russell and Aaron,
both of whom
were pretty badly injured.
And so after they finished
their conversation,
Henderson goes
in an ambulance
to Ivinson Memorial Hospital.
The officer takes a look
at the truck...
and he sees a lot of things
outside of the truck
that looked odd.
There's this
really bloody gun.
What is all this stuff?
What has happened here?
And they're just
absolutely baffled
by what took place here.
Initially, they think
it's just this one fight
in a residential area,
but there's more to this
and they know it.
So they're processing
outside of the truck,
they're swabbing blood.
And of course, this gun
in the bed of the truck
is available to them,
so they take it,
and it's just covered
with blood.
Under federal law,
there is an exception
to the rule that you need
a search warrant,
which is called
the plain view doctrine.
If an officer sees
a potential piece of evidence
in plain sight,
they're allowed
to take that evidence,
preserve that evidence,
in the event that a crime
has been committed.
And then,
they look in the cab
and they see this really
nice pair of shoes,
which seem out of place,
because they don't seem
like the kind
that these guys would have.
So, what's interesting
is you have
some Laramie
Police Department people
listening in
to the radio call.
When Deputy Fluty,
the Albany County
Sheriff's Deputy calls
from the fence and said,
"We've got the student ID
with the name
of Matthew Shepard,"
the ears of some
police detectives perk up.
Right around this time,
police are still
looking for Aaron McKinney.
They go to his house...
He's not there.
Eventually, Kristen Price,
who was Aaron McKinney's
called police and said Aaron
was badly beaten up,
and so now
he's at the hospital.
Aaron was injured
pretty badly from the assault
the night before
between the White guy
and the Hispanic guy,
and he had to be transferred
from the local hospital
to Poudre Valley to have
his head injury treated.
Police were
invited by Kristen Price
to come and interview him.
They do talk to him briefly
a little bit and asked him
about the incident.
So, they started asking
McKinney about the truck
and he said, "Oh, well,
that was stolen from us
when we were out last night."
And he said he had been jumped
by a couple of folks
and he got cracked
in the head.
While officers are
interviewing Aaron McKinney
at the hospital,
they received word
that Matthew has been found
on the outskirts of town
and is being brought
into that same hospital.
When the doctors there
see him,
they are doing what they can
to try and revive him.
The hospital contacted
his parents,
who were still
in Saudi Arabia.
They started
the process of getting home
as quickly as they could.
They realized
right away,
"We can't take care
of him here."
So there's a hospital
in Fort Collins
called Poudre Valley Hospital
that handles head injuries.
So, they realized right away,
"We gotta get him
to that hospital."
The first time
I learned about
what had happened to Matt,
I got an email from
a mutual friend of ours,
the same friend
that had introduced us.
And she let me know
that Matt had been attacked
and that he was
in the hospital.
She let me know
that his prognosis
was not good.
There was a shock,
there was a fear.
There was just this distraught
feeling you had
because you knew there
was nothing you could do.
And so I just
kind of waited it out.
The first few hours
were honestly pretty scary
for myself and most of
the members of the group,
because we didn't know
who had done this.
For me, it was unmistakable
that this had to be
about hate.
So, law enforcement
now starts to interview
people of interest
about Matthew's attack.
Police bring Russell,
Chastity Paisley,
who was Russell's girlfriend,
and Kristen into the station
and try
and do interviews with them.
Russell Henderson
isn't speaking, so he's...
"Lawyering up"
is the term they use,
he's gonna wait
for an attorney.
Chastity Paisley
explains that,
"Oh, well, I really
don't know anything."
Kristen Price
had a little one at that time
and she had no interest
in getting arrested
or having anything happen
to her.
And he told her,
"I think
I killed somebody tonight."
He explained
that he and Russell Henderson
were at the Fireside bar
where they saw somebody
that was gay
and he looked like
he had money.
Kristen tells him,
they came up with a plan
that they would pretend
that they're gay
and they'll try
and get him to go with them
and that they will rob him.
And eventually,
he decided to go with them
and they left
the Fireside bar.
After Aaron
tells her what happened,
he goes into the bathroom
to get cleaned up.
She looks in and sees him
washing off a bloody wallet.
Aaron then took that wallet,
put it in a dirty diaper
and threw it in the trash.
Kristen says
that Chastity and Russell
come over and they discussed
the evening's events,
realized they better get rid
of some of their evidence,
better get rid
of their clothes.
The clothing
they did not get rid of
was Russell's shoes,
which were very expensive
and he had just bought them,
and they hid those in
a shed at another location.
Law enforcement
goes to the location
and after
a little bit of a search,
they find the shoes
that were covered with blood.
They go to
the McKinney household
where they find his clothes,
they're bloody,
and then in the dirty diaper
they find the wallet
that's got
the driver's license
of Matthew Shepard in it.
By the end of the afternoon,
all three were arrested
in connection with what
happened to Matthew Shepard.
At the time,
I was the news director
at Wyoming Public Radio.
I was also teaching
that semester
at the University of Wyoming.
I had a student
that was in my class
and he called me up
that morning
and told me that he wasn't
gonna be able to come
to class that day
because something bad
had happened
to a friend of his.
And I'm like,
"Are you kidding me?"
Like what happened?
He goes, "Oh, you're gonna
hear about this.
This is a real terrible thing.
It's going to be
a news story for you."
Matthew Shepard...
Matthew Shepard...
Matthew Shepard...
Matthew Shepard...
You know,
in public radio,
we don't have the scanner
on like TV stations do
or newspapers might.
We don't do a lot of
that day-to-day crime stuff.
But I did have somebody
that morning tell me,
"Wow, the scanner
was really going last night."
There was something going on.
There's something
that happened
just outside of town.
So, I called
the sheriff's office
and they wouldn't say
anything, but they said,
"We're gonna have
a news conference at 3:00."
That afternoon,
we were there.
Of course,
there may have been
one other radio station there,
and then I remember that some
local TV stations
and some television stations
from Denver were there.
the press conference,
Sheriff Gary Puls
remarked for the first time
about Matthew's attack.
He also announced the charges
against Russell Henderson,
Kristen Price
and Chastity Paisley.
Aaron McKinney had
not been charged as of yet,
but they told us
that we know where he is
and we are going to be
charging him shortly.
The sheriff
made it very clear to us
that he thought
that this incident happened
because Matthew Shepard
was gay.
In 1998,
the Wyoming legislature
is mostly retired ranchers,
you know, old White men.
We didn't have
hate crime legislation.
Passing any hate
crimes legislation
would be like putting
a stamp of approval
and saying "This is true,
this is who we are."
And it was just an obstacle
that they couldn't overcome.
From that point on,
I never ever, ever,
ever heard a member
of law enforcement
call it a hate crime.
This was a local crime.
It didn't strike me
that this was something
the national news
would be interested in.
Aaron McKinney
also had been transferred
to Poudre Valley Hospital
in Colorado
as well as Matthew Shepard.
Police waited for him
to be released,
and as soon
as he was released,
he agreed to be extradited
back to Wyoming.
he basically said,
"Yeah, it happened and...
But here's what happened."
They're kinda driving around
and then they sort
of go to the Fireside.
And they are really
short of cash.
And they're using quarters,
nickels and dimes
to buy a pitcher of beer,
when they see this
other person approach them.
And they concoct
this plan where they're gay
and they'll try
and get him
to go with them.
They leave the bar
and get in the truck,
which is
Aaron's father's truck.
Matthew is positioned
in between them in the seat,
in between them, really,
and Russell's driving.
He was holding a gun
at that time,
'cause they were,
you know, telling him
he was gonna be robbed,
and then Aaron
took his wallet.
Aaron has his gun out.
It just doesn't make sense
that Matthew
would feel emboldened
to make a pass at him.
Aaron McKinney just started
hitting him with a gun.
He hit him in the face.
He just whacked him.
He explained
that Russell drove them
to the site,
and then Russell tied him up.
And then Aaron
just started to hit him...
And hit him and hit him.
I'm sure
he was terrified.
I imagine you would be
confused also,
how could a scenario
of just leaving the bar
with someone escalate
so quickly to this.
Really went
from a situation
where it sounded like
what they were intending
to do was rob the young man,
and just like that,
it turned into something
really catastrophic.
Aaron basically
just unleashed on Matthew.
He beat him brutally
and repeatedly.
Aaron admitted he just
kinda went into a rage.
He just started
hitting him and hitting him
and hitting him.
And then Aaron took
his shoes.
Aaron tells
the police after he was done
beating Matthew,
he assumed Matthew was dead.
He and Russell jumped back
in the truck,
drove back into town,
potentially to get rid
of the gun,
and got in a fight.
There is something
of an ironic parallel
in the fact that Aaron
had just finished brutally
beating someone
and came into town
and then got his own head
cracked open.
The thing in that interview
that comes across
is he was actually
sort of nonchalant.
And after
the interview was done,
he was charged with attempted
first degree murder,
and with aggravated robbery.
An openly gay
college student beaten
and left to die
clings to life in Wyoming
this morning.
I know that virtually
no one in Laramie
or in the state of Wyoming
had any idea
the media storm that was
about to descend on them,
or what a chord
Matthew's story would strike
at that particular
moment in history.
Matthew Shepard.
Matthew Shepard.
Matthew Shepard.
Matthew Shepard.
In the hours
after Matthew was found,
people learned
Matthew Shepard's name.
He became a national
news story.
It was a gruesome
discovery at this fence,
a gay man barely
alive tonight
in a coma, brain damaged.
It was everywhere.
It was in every newspaper.
It was on the news.
Everyone's kind of like
just watching and listening
and hoping that he would live.
Not in my wildest dreams
would I expect
that the New York Times
and Newsweek,
and CBS, ABC, NBC,
CNN, all those people
would be showing up
in my community
within roughly 24 hours.
I'd never seen that before.
A couple of things
were going on
in the hours
after Matthew was found.
There were many people
who wanted Matthew's
story known,
because these murders
had been going on
for a long time.
Matthew's friends
and activists
were reaching out
to an existing infrastructure
of gay rights,
national organizations
that then could amplify
what happened.
The National Gay
and Lesbian Organization
descended into Laramie,
in particular,
GLAD, the Gay and Lesbian
Alliance against Defamation.
Like, they're literally
a media watchdog group.
This is what they do.
All they do at that time
was watch the media
and contact different
members of the media
about the stories
and the reporting
that they're doing.
The only way change
was gonna happen
was to also use the media
to amplify the story
of what happened to Matthew.
People aren't stupid.
They're sophisticated
about the media.
People were calling
the Campus Activity Center
and leaving messages for me,
Good Morning America
and Dateline.
The hate and violence
must stop.
It was kind of a scary
and unique challenge
all of a sudden to be asked
to be the spokesperson
for all gay people in Wyoming
is the way it felt
at the time.
My name is Nate Mickelson.
I grew up
in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
It was pretty small,
maybe about 3,000 people.
You know, I thought
I was the only gay person,
but I was part
of that community
and people cared for me
no matter what was going on.
I was at college.
And when I heard about
what happened to Matt,
it really shocked me.
You know, it wasn't a kind of
Wyoming that I remembered.
You know, it let me know
that I wasn't as safe
as I thought I had been.
And I wasn't as safe
growing up as I thought
I had been.
Welcome my buddy,
Ellen DeGeneres.
I was on
my TV show.
It was an incredibly
turbulent time
in my life and world.
I remember
the James Byrd situation,
the same horror and hypocrisy
and evil and systemic racism
that allows a Black man
to be lynched
and feeling something
has to be done,
not knowing what to do.
And then right
on the heels of that,
Matthew Shepard
and feeling that same horror.
I first heard
about Matthew Shepard
in my dorm room in New York,
and there weren't
a ton of details.
Even though this happened
thousands of miles
from where we were,
I think we all recognized
pieces of ourselves
in this story.
In '98, I was
in San Diego, California.
I was in high school.
You know,
I was still in the closet.
And, you know,
hearing about this awful,
brutal crime was terrifying.
It made me fearful
to step toward coming out.
It made me more fearful
to embrace who I was
because it reminded me
how much hate
there is out there.
I spent a lot of time
trying to convince
my mother in Nebraska
that everything is still
gonna be okay
and that I could be safe
and would be safe
when in reality,
I knew...
that that might not
always be the case.
It was terrifying. It was...
It was a terrifying
While all of this
is going on,
Matthew is still
in the hospital.
His parents are there
and they're just hoping
that he's going to survive.
We all watched what
was happening with Matthew
in the hospital and those days
while he was trying to survive
and we knew
the likelihood of that.
And yet everybody
hoped, right?
You know, people were
critical of the community.
Well, you know,
the Wild West,
you're probably pulling
gay people off the street
left and right
and beating them,
or this kind of thing probably
happens in Laramie
all the time.
There was
a real generalization
about where Matthew was from
and that maybe
it wasn't surprising
that a gay kid
would have this...
horrible crime happen to him
in a rural area like that.
That everyone from Wyoming
was anti-LGBTQ,
that we were all just a bunch
of uneducated hicks who went
around engaging
in gay bashing
or words to that effect.
I think Wyoming
will always struggle
with outsiders'
perception of us,
like, it was taught
in our schools.
It was preached
from our pulpits,
but it's not unique
to Wyoming.
People love to tell you
"It would never happen
in this great blue state
that I live in."
And they're full of.
It was homecoming weekend
for the University of Wyoming.
And so normally,
that's festive, right?
And they were wearing
yellow arm bands, you know,
saying that hate
is not a Laramie value.
And it was just comforting
to see that.
And that you could see
the same message
on the marquee out in front
of the mom and pop hotels
and Arby's national
chain restaurants
were putting signs up
like that, too.
I cannot begin to describe
the difference that that made
as a queer person
in this town,
knowing that there really
were more people
who had our back
and had Matt's back.
People were rooting for him.
There were people who were
praying for him to live.
Like, it became this,
"Can this underdog make it?"
- Ready?
- Yup.
At 12:00 midnight
on October 12th, 1998,
Matthew Shepard's blood
pressure began to drop.
His condition continued
to deteriorate.
And at 12:53 a.m.
this morning,
Matthew Shepard died.
Matthew's mother said to me,
"Please tell everybody
who's listening to go home.
Give your kids a hug.
And don't let a day go by
without telling them
that you love them."
Even though it was something
that for me,
I had had kind of known
was coming,
it still was...
that letdown, that...
That air escaping
your lungs in a way
that you can't control.
That last vain hope
that well, gosh,
maybe he'll wake up was gone.
I broke.
I literally broke.
All of a sudden,
all of that grief
and anger and sadness
just rushed in
and completely overtook me.
I was very devastated
by Matthew's death
and didn't quite know
what to do.
My soul ate
at human's ability
to be cruel to another.
Hearing about
his death and processing it
was even scarier
because there wasn't anybody
for me to relate to about it.
I didn't have anybody
to talk to about it.
I just heard about it
and I thought...
"This is the world
that I'm about to enter
as an adult."
And that scared me.
My boyfriend has two kids
and his daughter asked me
what I was doing today.
And I explained that I was
going to do this documentary.
And she asked me what it
was about and I said,
"Well, it's about a boy named
Matthew Shepard who died."
And she said,
"Why did he die?"
And I said,
"Well, 'cause he was gay."
And that was all I could think
to say about it
to a 10-year-old.
After Matthew's death
was announced,
there was such an outpouring
across the country
with candlelight vigils
in major cities
and small towns.
I was astonished
by the outpouring of emotion.
It broke
everybody's heart.
And I think finally people
were starting to feel that,
that no matter who you are,
no matter
what you identify as,
no matter who you love,
no one deserves
to be treated that way.
Matt's death
was a rallying point.
People were angry,
viscerally angry
about what was happening.
Let us commit ourselves
to transforming the anger
of this march
into sustained action.
Let's move tonight.
Let's move
the country tonight.
I am so... pissed off.
I can't stop crying.
Here is an example.
This young kid
minding his own business
gets murdered for no other
reason than he was gay.
It was so sensational.
The story was so strong.
And it was so clear
what had happened
that you couldn't deny it
any further.
The determination we have
will not diminish.
We still have a long way to go
in our nation to make sure
that hatred and intolerance
are banished
from our country.
It was astonishing.
The only time I can recall
before that
where there was that kind
of outpouring of emotion
and rage
was when Harvey Milk
was assassinated in 1978.
We must do more
to deal with violent bigotry.
Even though Matthew had died
from an anti-gay hate crime,
most of us were pretty naive
about what anti-gay hate
looked like.
- He's the one that said
he was a fag. I didn't.
- Yeah.
When we found out
that this guy,
Fred Phelps,
from the Westboro
Baptist Church
was coming to the funeral,
it struck us as very odd.
Like, why would someone come
protest at a funeral?
I had never heard
of Fred Phelps before.
Fred Phelps
coined the catchphrase,
"God hates fags,"
and was just known
for some really vulgar
and awful anti-gay rhetoric.
It was just like
how much more horrific
could a group
of people become?
This seems like the right time
to target this family,
ruining this event
that should've been
a very somber,
very respectful day.
It's really shocking.
Have you ever been
to a fag parade?
We didn't force
a fag...
Him and his family
are holding up these signs
like "Matt in hell"
and "AIDS kills fags"
and just like horrible,
hateful crap, right?
You'll go to hell.
You'll go to hell
just like Matthew Shepard
for the hell he did
before he died.
Romaine and I
knew that we had to
respond to that.
We knew that it was probable
that Phelps
and his group would
come back at some point.
We felt that it was
important for us
to send a message
that we don't agree with that.
That sort of thing
is not welcome here.
We knew
we had to block them out.
We wanted to
block out Fred Phelps
and all their horrible signs
so that Judy and Dennis
would never have
to look at their ugly faces.
I had a plan.
In the
in-between period
between Matthew's
memorial service
and then what was supposed
to be a hearing,
really, for Russell Henderson,
the world was crazy.
Those of us who were actively
still doing interviews,
we talked
to Matthew's parents
and asked what
they wanted us to say
because that was important.
You know, we wanted
to make sure
we were doing right,
not only by Matthew,
but by Judy and Dennis.
We never stopped.
It never stopped.
There was definitely,
you know, significant work
happening with law enforcement
and the court case, you know,
the county attorney's office.
A lot of motions
clarified in that time
that this was going
to be a death penalty case.
They had to separate
the two cases,
so they weren't gonna be
tried together.
About a week prior
to Russell Henderson's trial,
Jim Osborn calls me
and he says,
"Fred Phelps is coming
to Laramie for the trials."
And I said, "Great."
The issue
and turn the country over
to these militant sodomites.
The whole exterior
of the courthouse
was surrounded
by media people.
There had to have been
like ten or fifteen
satellite trucks,
hundreds of reporters.
It was madness.
And they're all focused
in on Fred Phelps
and his horrible
anti-gay crap.
In any nation that agrees
that it's okay to be gay
will go the way
of ancient Sodom.
And then all of a sudden,
this band of angels
comes walking down the street
and they're like,
"What the hell is this?"
And like the parting
of the Red Sea,
they all make way.
And we
surround Fred Phelps,
we turn our backs to him,
and now we're angels.
We didn't wanna let
that kind of hatred
and bigotry come into
our community unchallenged.
And it worked very well.
Fred Phelps can no longer
talk to people.
He can no longer
yell at people.
So, they just started
singing hymnals.
And now there's angels
with floaty wings,
listening to, you know,
beautiful hymns
and it was serene
and surreal and just wild.
Russell Henderson's
public defender,
Wyatt Skaggs,
had a number
of death penalty cases
and he really didn't want
anything to go to trial.
And he saw the evidence.
He knew what they had.
Really worked tirelessly,
since this case began
with one goal in mind.
And that was
to save Russell's life.
Judge Donnell just said
this was a horrific murder.
When you look
at all the facts in the case,
there's just no way
he should be out in public.
And he gave him, you know,
the consecutive sentences.
And so he's in for life.
Chasity Pasley,
who was Russell's girlfriend,
got sentenced to about
a year and a half in prison.
Aaron McKinney's girlfriend,
Kristen Price,
ended up not ever
serving any time,
other than her initial
arrest time that she had
and just kind of moved on
with her life.
With those three
out of the way,
it became the trial.
Aaron McKinney, he was facing
the death penalty.
And that was the main event
that everyone
had been waiting for.
There was a couple of things
still at play
that this was just
a robbery gone bad
and this had nothing to do
with hate crimes.
But this was a hate crime,
no doubt about it.
But one of the things
that the defense did
is they used
the gay panic defense
that none of
this would've happened
if Matthew Shepard
didn't reach at his groin
and touch him there,
and that caused him to snap.
Gay panic defense
is meant to say
that someone's gay
or queer or trans identity
is reason enough to harm them,
that that is something violent
and threatening
and is legally permissible
to take violent action
towards them.
It wasn't
the first time.
There have been a number
of occasions in the past
and about 30% of the cases
where this defense was used,
people got a reduced sentence.
And one of the things
that the defense also did
is they used the fact
that Aaron McKinney
was a victim
of sexual abuse as a child.
They need to explain
that he's got some
very raw emotions about this,
and if somebody is making
a move on him,
that's gonna trigger
some things
and lead to this beating,
lead to this attack.
There were plenty
of people who believed
that Matthew Shepard
as a gay man
got what he deserved.
I really do think
that the McKinney crowd
thought that that would work,
and I was bracing for it.
Soon as the gay panic
defense came up,
the prosecutor objected.
Well, I think
that is a defense
that is atrocious,
that should not be used
in any situation,
in any court
in these United States.
It gives people the excuse
to hurt or to kill
another person.
The ruling comes as a relief
to those who support
Shepard's family
and those who support
gay issues.
Even if Matthew made a pass
at Aaron McKinney,
all he had to say was,
"No, thank you,"
which is what women have had
to say over and over again
because men make
unwanted passes.
He didn't have
to beat him to death
with the butt of a gun.
It's a pathetic defense.
The gay panic defense
is the perfect articulation
of how profoundly
we blamed the victims
of homophobic
and transphobic crime.
Jury found
Aaron McKinney guilty
of two counts of murder
plus aggravated robbery
and kidnapping.
The verdicts came
after just 10 hours
of deliberation.
And then we were
all gearing up for what
we expected to be
a pretty good
death penalty discussion.
And then out of nowhere,
it was announced that
that's not
what was gonna happen.
After being approached
by defense attorneys,
the Shepards recommended
McKinney be given life
rather than death in memory
of their son.
In an emotional address
to the court,
Dennis Shepard told McKinney,
"You robbed me
of something very precious.
Mr. McKinney, I give you life
in the memory
of one who no longer lives.
May you have a long life
and may you thank Matthew
every day for it."
I was so moved by his words
and his compassion
and his ability to forgive.
And I thought, this is
the dawning of something new.
After Matthew's death,
there was so much organizing
and so much forward momentum
and so many public demands
for legislation
for hate crimes.
Very quickly, the President
took up this cause.
And I think that in part,
that's because the country
was ready to have
the conversation.
Hate crimes laws
had been proposed
in Congress multiple times
and failed multiple times.
This was not something
that had never been
discussed before.
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act
would be important
substantively and symbolically
to send a message to ourselves
and to the world
that we are going
into the 21st century
determined to preach
and to practice what is right.
It also wasn't surprising
to me that ultimately
that legislation died
in committee
because they weren't so quick
to pick up the ball
and run with it.
I think the
Matthew Shepard Foundation
is one of the really
important things
to come out
of Matthew's death.
There is no excuse
for what happened to Matthew
and something needs
to be done to curb
this hatred that seems
to be permeating society.
Which ultimately, becomes
this incredible mission
of erasing hate
through legislation.
We're gonna go ahead
and get started.
Down this dirt road,
Byrd was murdered
early Sunday morning.
The killers left
a trail of blood
and the trail of evidence
as they drove along this road.
The combination
of the horrific racism
of James Byrd's death
and the homophobia
in Matthew's,
I think are forever linked.
They're forever linked
emotionally and morally.
They're evils of the...
Of the same pile,
you know, and that they're
linked together as we all,
you know, move forward
for equality in this country.
This is an issue
we couldn't let go by.
I have a window
of opportunity here
that I wanna
take advantage of.
All of a sudden,
this tremendous responsibility
fell upon her.
She doesn't like crowds,
she doesn't like being
in front of people,
and yet despite all of that,
she continued to do it
day after day.
When I think about
how she responded to it,
if you don't have respect
for that woman,
you don't even know
the meaning of the work.
Today's hearing
is a very important one
and focuses on the serious
problem of hate crimes.
Think of the incidence
of recent violent crimes
that are motivated
by hate and bigotry
and how they've seared
the conscience
of this country.
And so people were like,
"Let's talk about this.
Let's talk about it right now,
because if we don't,
this is gonna continue
to happen and we cannot
afford that."
It took society, I think,
a while to understand
what it is to protect
minorities in this country
who don't often have a voice
socially or politically,
and who get demonized
and treated as less than.
The fact that
this legislation exists
highlights these crimes
as something
other than just a murder.
These are committed
because the individual
committing the crime
hates that person
because of who they are,
We were just asking
to not be murdered.
It is the most modest
of requests.
Hate crimes have no place
in America.
In 2007, a version
of the Matthew Shepard
Hate Crimes Act was
reintroduced to the Senate.
It passed the house...
On this bill,
the yays are 237.
The nays are 180.
The bill is passed.
It was attached to the Defense
Authorization Act.
President Bush
said he would veto
the Defense
Authorization Act, however,
if this Hate Crimes Act
was attached to it.
So ultimately it was removed
from the Defense
Authorization Act
and it died on the floor.
If you track
the trajectory
of the hate crimes
being introduced,
there's something
really instructive
about what
our movement, right?
Like advocating for the full
dignity and health
of LGBTQ people,
what we learned
in the process,
once we sort of coalesced
around like the love
is love message
that helped progress us.
And it haunts me to this day,
to think about how many times
she has bared her soul
and her pain
for the benefit of others.
How many hearts
she has changed.
How many minds
she has expanded.
Thank you so much and welcome
to the White House.
You know, as a nation,
we've come far
on the journey towards
a more perfect union,
and today we've taken
another step forward.
This afternoon
I signed into law
the Matthew Shepard
and James Byrd Jr.
Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
It took 11 years
from Matthew's murder
to get hate crimes
legislation signed,
that seemed quick to me
for legislation
covering something that's
as potentially controversial
as protecting gay people
and others
from hate crimes.
I was shocked
and, uh...
And moved to tears
then and again now.
There is something
so important about knowing
that your government,
my government cares about me.
What that started
to set up was awareness
for equal rights legislation.
And it started something.
It started the country
taking this seriously
and trying to protect us
as members of the country.
What happened
to Matthew Shepard
was a key turning point.
The legislation that was
passed ultimately
because of his murder
is very important
for our community.
I think a lot of us thought
that it was over,
that we didn't have
to fight anymore,
that we were accepted.
We were so wrong
on so many levels.
The years following
the signing of federal
hate crimes legislation
felt like
an almost golden age.
We were starting to feel like
we're actually gonna live
in a country that welcomes us.
We were in a great place.
There was not really
a worry or a concern
when we woke up
in the morning about,
you know,
having to put on extra armor
or the shield, right?
I mean, we felt freer.
It created
this feeling of momentum
and this feeling of like,
we finally figured out
as a country how to like,
make people feel included
and to like
celebrate difference.
This morning, I am proud
to sign a law
that will bring an end
to Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
And in 2015
when the Supreme Court
ruled on marriage equality,
and then same-sex marriage
was legal across the land.
The ban
on gay adoption was,
you know, dropped.
And so all of a sudden,
our whole family structure,
which had been illegal
in this country
and in this state,
was now a thing of the past.
So we were legally married
in the state of Florida.
We could now legally
adopt children
in the state of Florida.
This wonderful glow of being,
you know, new dads.
-I loved every minute of it.
-Yeah. It was...
It was amazing.
Um, it was amazing.
It was a step
in the right direction.
It was a step in acceptance.
And I let my guard down
thinking that
things are only
gonna get better.
And I've lived
long enough to see
multiple... waves
of progress and backlash.
Should have seen it coming,
and I didn't.
Election night,
the election night of 2016,
I am devastated
because I don't know
what this means for my family.
I remember people
that were supporting
of the then president,
"Oh, they're not...
Nothing's gonna change."
-They're not gonna...
They're not gonna touch
any LGBTQ rights.
And I'm like, "You're naive."
I, Donald John Trump,
do solemnly swear.
I knew this was a potentially
very dark time ahead.
The furies had been unleashed.
Trump! Trump! Trump!
With a backlash
that I couldn't
have imagined.
They are worthy of death.
These people should be
put to death.
2016 began with
the bathroom bill
that was North Carolina's
to prevent trans-students
from using the bathroom
that aligned
with their gender identity.
My name is Erin Reed.
I use she/her pronouns.
I'm a queer legislative
and activist,
and a content creator.
Those of us who are active
in the LGBTQ community
and in LGBTQ rights
had a lot of fear that
our rights would be curtailed.
And those fears
came to fruition
relatively quickly.
The purpose
of our school system
is to educate kids,
not to indoctrinate our kids.
My name is Zander Moricz.
I knew about Matthew Shepard,
but I don't know
if that narrative is as widely
acknowledged as I would
like it to be
because these stories
are essential
to share and reflect on.
I was raised
in Sarasota, Florida,
which is a pretty politically
polarized community,
and I found sanctuary
in my school community.
I came out to
a civics teacher
at Pine View,
who was then
my PE teacher actually.
It was a safe space.
It was exactly
what a school is meant to be.
It's a place to learn
and discover not only things
in subjects but yourself.
That environment
that is so accepting,
that is so affirming,
is a threat
to the politicians
and they need a solution
for that.
And the solution is,
"Okay, it's all happening
in these safe spaces.
We'll take them away."
And the Don't Say Gay law
was an example of that.
No sexual instruction
in grades pre-K through three.
And so how many parents
want their kindergartners
to have transgenderism
or something injected
into classroom instruction?
When this was first
introduced as a bill,
our boys were in first grade.
The bill is supposed
to impact kids' kindergarten
through third grade.
So, this was bringing it home
directly for us.
The Don't Say Gay bill
is now law.
Governor Ron DeSantis Monday
signed the measure
banning certain instruction
about sexual orientation
and gender identity
in the classroom.
One of the things that makes
this piece of legislation
so horrifying is the way
that it's enforced.
The enforcement mechanism
is that any parent
can sue a school district.
to the bill grew louder
in recent days.
For a public school
teacher in Florida
to get in trouble
for having maybe a photo
of their spouse on their desk.
We can't even take
a risk. Imagine what
the consequence would be.
What's going on?
We are like going
completely backwards.
Although Ron DeSantis
said that it was intended
to protect only the youngest
children from,
you know, being indoctrinated
into homosexuality,
the law's been expanded
to apply to kids
in grades K through 12.
-The amount of silence...
...was deafening.
We are still seeing
hateful attacks
like the attack on Matthew
and what that signifies to us
is not that there hasn't
been any progress,
but that that hate
still exists.
And that's like
the enemy of equality.
In Texas, the governor
had a directive
to prevent trans-youth
from accessing transgender
affirming medical care.
The governor's
directive was to investigate
some Texas parents
of transgender children
for potential child abuse,
specifically parents
who provided gender
affirming care
that stops puberty.
Those bills do harm.
They create bullying
for transgender youth.
Transgender youth deserve
to be protected and safe.
You don't hear
anything like that from
Governor Abbott, right?
Like, you hear the reverse.
You hear this dehumanization
of kids from Governor Abbott.
And somehow from 2016 to now
that has become normalized.
All this is going to do
is force a lot of us
back into hiding.
What can they do?
They can hide.
That's about
all there is left.
Or they can fight.
And neither one
of those options feels good,
but that's what's left.
I mean, hide or fight,
you know?
Matthew Shepard's death
was horrific,
but it's also this violence
is commonplace.
We're so grateful
that you're with us here
as we cover a mass
casualty shooting
in downtown Orlando.
Physical violence
like the massacre
at Pulse nightclub
in Florida,
or the mass shooting at Club Q
in Colorado Springs,
that teaches our queer youth
and queer people in general
to be terrified,
that based on
their identity alone
they can be slaughtered.
The sad fact
is that people
are always going to hate.
And no matter what we do,
we keep coming back
to the same horrible places.
But we can't not fight.
We have to continue to fight.
And that means
being visible when you can
to your family,
to your friends,
to your community.
The people
who are part of that,
you know, movable middle,
who are your neighbors,
who just need to hear
a different message,
invite them in,
have that conversation.
On the other side,
like conservative folks,
you're gonna have
to find your moral courage.
Like history
is gonna look back
on what you did
and did not do
during this time.
And I think they're going
to judge you harshly
for how rapidly
you capitulated your values.
Matthew's story
is really important
because it was
one of the reasons why
we were able to move forward
in the past 25 years.
But the need
in this moment
when it's hard
to get motivated to fight
all over again,
to remember
who this young man was,
who was so brutally murdered
because he was gay.
- Move!
- You're a bigot and you're a coward!
And that is
why Matthew's story
continues to be told.
And we do have to keep
sharing Matthew's story.
We have to teach gay history.
It's very important
that we continue
to focus on young people.
Young people are the future.
We have a lot of brave
teens like Zander
doing the things he does,
and it's encouraging.
What happened
to Matthew Shepard
is undeniably wicked
and disgusting
and full of hate
that's happening again
every single day.
But there's nothing
stopping us
from revolutionizing
our society
in a generation.
We absolutely could.
We just have to
start right now.