Shepard was a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming at the time of his death. He was brutally attacked near Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6-7, 1998 by two men who later claimed that they were driven temporarily insane by “gay panic” due to Shepard’s alleged sexual advances.
Shepard was beaten and left to die. The officer who found him said that he was covered with blood -- except for the white streaks left by his tears. Father William Hart McNichols created a striking icon based on his report. McNichols dedicated his icon The Passion of Matthew Shepard to the 1,470 gay and lesbian youth of commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and to the countless others who are injured or murdered.
Now the Matthew Shepard Foundation seeks to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. U.S. President Obama signed "The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" into law on Oct. 28, 2009. It broadens the federal hate-crimes law to cover violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
|“The Murder of Matthew Shepard” by Matthew WettlauferMatthew Wettlaufer|
The grim scene of Matthew’s death is vividly portrayed in “The Murder of Matthew Shepard,” above, by gay artist-philosopher Matthew Wettlaufer. He lived in El Salvador and South Africa before returning to California. For an interview with Wettlaufer and more of his art, see my previous post “New paintings honor gay martyrs.”
|“The Last of Laramie” by Stephen Mead|
Matthew’s story has also been dramatized in films such as “The Laramie Project” and the “The Matthew Shepard Story” with Sam Waterson and Stockard Channing as the grieving parents.
McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who has been rebuked by church leaders for making icons of saints not approved by the church, including this one of Matthew Shepard. McNichols’ own moving spiritual journey and two of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry. His Matthew Shepard icon appears in his book “Christ All Merciful,” which he co-authored with Megan McKenna.
California artist Sandow Birk painted a candlelight vigil for Shepard. With a drummer and a rainbow flag, it seems to echo “The Spirit of 76,” a famous patriotic painting of Revolutionary War figures by Archibald MacNeal Willard. But it is based on “The Conscripts” by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, a painting that seems to take a hard look at the toll of war, especially the conscription of young people into the military during the Franco-Prussian War.
For more about Sandow Birk’s art, see my previous post Stonewall's LGBT history painted: Interview with Sandow Birk.
“The Murder of Matthew Shepard” by Matthew Wettlaufer
Oil on canvas, 2006. 1-1/2 meters x 1 meter.
“The Last of Laramie” by Stephen Mead
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.
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