Homophobia in Small Town America | Matthew Shepard
Episode 2

Homophobia in Small Town America | Matthew Shepard

Rasha and Yvette discuss the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old gay man who was beaten to death in 1998.

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In The Episode

Trevor Young 00:04

You're listening to Facing Evil, a production of iHeart Radio and TenderfootTV. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the individuals participating in the show, and do not represent those of iHeart Radio or TenderfootTV. This podcast contains subject matter which may not be suitable for everyone. Listener discretion is advised.

Rasha Pecoraro 00:27

Aloha. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to our new podcast Facing Evil from TenderfootTV and iHeart Radio. We are your hosts. I'm Rasha Pecoraro.

Yvette Gentile 00:38

And I'm Yvette Gentille. And if you are just joining us, check out our first episode on the case of Lisa Au, or our episode zero, where we share our crazy family history. And our first foray into podcasting. Each week, we are joined by our amazing producer, Trevor Young.

Trevor Young 01:00

Hey, I'm here and sweating because it is super hot in LA right now, where I live. 

Rasha Pecoraro 01:05

Is it hot in San Francisco too, Yvette? 

Yvette Gentile 01:07

It's very hot in San Francisco, I have the blinds closed, there is no fan on.

Rasha Pecoraro 01:12

I don't feel bad for either of you. I'm in Portland, and it's raining all the time. It's not okay. This is why we all need to live in the same city very soon.

Yvette Gentile 01:22

Right? Right soon soon. All righty. So now that we know the geography of where we all live, let's get back to why we're here. Okay. Most importantly, we want to discuss true crime stories that we think that need to be brought into the light. And we want to share our unique perspective on the cases and people involved.

Rasha Pecoraro 01:44

And Facing Evil is about being the light in the dark. It's about moving onward and upward and never letting evil define who you are, or who you want to be.

Yvette Gentile 01:56

Already, Trevor, let's have you tell us about this case.

Bill Clinton 02:00

I hope that in the grief of this moment for Matthew Shepherd's family and in the shared outrage across America. Americans will once again search their hearts and do what they can to reduce their own fear and anxiety and anger at people who are different.

Archive Clip 02:19

It was a crime that shook the country to its core and helped accelerate the march towards equality for the LGBT community. He had blood all over him and I asked him what had happened and he told me that he thought maybe he had killed someone. He couldn't tell me everything that had happened. He just said that. Yeah, he had beat him with the butt of the gun.

Trevor Young 02:41

Matthew Shepard was a 21 year old gay man who was brutally beaten and killed back in 1998. At the time, he was in college at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, and one night he was at a local bar when two men approached him. It's unclear why, but Matthew ended up leaving with them in their car. Then the two men took Matthew to a field where they beat and tortured him, supposedly for being gay. They tied him to a fence and left him there to die. It wasn't until the following afternoon that a cyclist found Matthew and called the police. He was rushed to a nearby hospital in Colorado. This attack immediately became a national news story. On one website, thousands of people posted daily well wishes for Matthew and his family. Sadly, Matthew died of his injuries six days after the attack. The two killers were eventually captured and convicted of first degree murder. But this was a wake up call for the entire country. In the wake of Matthew's death, conversations about hate crimes and ways to prevent them were popping up in public forums everywhere. So what really went down that fateful night? What were the motives behind Matthew's assailants? And how does his story reveal a need to address homophobia in America? Especially in small towns?

Yvette Gentile 04:14

I already know that this I mean, this story is going to be so tough for both of us, right Rash.

Rasha Pecoraro 04:21

Yeah. Every time I personally think about Matthew, it's a mix between wanting to throw up and wanting to cry.

Yvette Gentile 04:34

I know it's you know, for me too. I just, I can just remember seeing Matthew's like beautiful smile and I didn't know him but he seemed like such a bright light and just a really sweet soul. And when you see how he was killed, it's just it's inhumane loss.

Rasha Pecoraro 04:58

For me, um, of course, this case hits home for me because I am an openly gay woman, I'm 43 years old, I came out at the age of 30. But to be quite honest, I think I would have come out much sooner in life if Matthew hadn't been killed. So Matthew was killed in 1998. I was a senior in high school in 1997. And when I found out about the horrific way that Matthew was killed, I, I knew that if I came out, I pictured myself brutally beaten, like Matthew, I didn't picture it at the hand of two assailants I pictured it at the hand of my father. And knowing that Matthew was killed, most likely because of his sexuality, and because of homophobia. It's horrifying to me.

Yvette Gentile 05:57

And that just, I mean, that just breaks my heart for so many different reasons. And it's, I mean, this is really a huge reason why this is so, so important and why the show is so important. Like so we can really address you know, important issues like this. I think a good place for us to start is by talking a little bit about Matthew's upbringing. So Matthew Shepard was born in Casper, Wyoming on December 1, 1976. His parents, Judy and Dennis Shepherd, they would always say that he preferred to be around adults. I can kind of relate to that, because I just remember growing up and being around mom, especially in my teens, like I always wanted to be around older people. But for Matthew, you know, he struggled to make friends his own age.

Rasha Pecoraro 06:51

Right. And I actually remember reading a quote from his mom, Judy. And she said that he got teased a lot for actually being small and unathletic. And that he always felt sort of out of place. And that might have been why, you know, it was hard for him to make friends his own age. It probably didn't help that his parents uprooted Matthew when he was just 17. And, Trevor, do you know more about the details of what, what happened around that time?

Trevor Young 07:20

Well, Matthew's dad got a job for Saudi Aramco in Iran, Saudi Arabia. So the parents moved there. Matthew decided he didn't want to go to Saudi Arabia. So instead, he went to the American School in Switzerland, and he studied theatre there. And then in May of 1995, Matthew had a very traumatic experience. That summer, he went on a school trip to Morocco. And there Matthew was assaulted and raped by a group of men. As you can imagine the incident deeply traumatized Matthew, he reportedly was in a near constant state of anxiety after that point, he was regularly having panic attacks. And this plunged him into a very deep depression. So he was also admitted to the hospital multiple times over the next couple of years for clinical depression and even suicidal ideations.

Rasha Pecoraro 08:15

I mean, how could you not after something that horrific happens.

Yvette Gentile 08:19

We know that Matthew was, you know, somewhat able to overcome to some extent. And he did eventually go to college and he enrolled at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. and Rasha, you know, this is a question for you. I already know because I'm your sister, and I know everything. So I know when you, you know, when you came out to mom, I know what she said. But for those that are listening, can you share a little bit of what mom said to you.

Rasha Pecoraro 08:45

When I came out? Yeah, so mom, as loving and kind and amazing as she was. I remember the first thing she asked me was when I told her I, cuz I literally said, Mom, I'm gay. I'm a lesbian. And she's like, Baby, why do you have to put a label on it? Like, don't? Can't you just say that you love love and love all people? I'm like, No, Mom, like I'm never sleeping with a man again. I am 100% a lesbian, and I love women. You know, and that was the only question she asked me she was 100 million percent supportive from that moment forward, as of course, my beautiful sister Yvette you were and are. But that's not the case for the entire queer community, sadly. But Matthew and I were so lucky. I had mom and Matthew had Judy, and another crazy thing to even think about, like, dating is super hard period. Right? But when you come out and especially when you come out during a time when you know homosexuality was it used to be like a dirty word. It can be scary and dating, it can be super hard for someone who's just coming out. And it was for me. I mean, a lot of women came after me that freaked me out. So I ended up marrying the first woman I dated and that's me and Vanna, 13 years later. But you know, from my understanding, I know, I know that Matthew did try dating, you know when he came out and well shortly after, but in 1998 we know for sure that he met a 36 year old named Brian Gooden on the internet in a chatroom, I think is what they used to call them, right, Trevor? 

Trevor Young 10:35

The good old 90's right?

Rasha Pecoraro 10:38

They ended up talking online for months, but it's unclear if they ever actually met in person. Brian Gooden would later say that Matthew was actually afraid to meet in person. And to me it just sounds like Matthew was afraid to be out publicly in a small town like Laramie.

Trevor Young 10:56

You know, it's the 90s You know, he probably had reason to fear being publicly out, especially in a small place, like Laramie that's relatively rural and conservative. And we know this now, because later that year, in October of 1998, Matthew finally decided to put himself out there, he finally you know, tried, and that one time that he did that is when he met the two men who would ultimately be responsible for his murder. And that is what we'll talk about when we come back from a quick break.

Rasha Pecoraro 11:30

So let's talk about the night that led to Matthew's death, October 6, 1998. So that evening, Matthew went to an LGBTA meeting and I believe at the time, LGBTA stood for lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender Alliance. So he went to the meeting on campus to plan for Gay Awareness Week. And afterwards, he went to the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, so they didn't really have a gay bar in Laramie. So the Fireside was the next best thing. But no one is really sure why Matthew went there on that particular night. Still, we do know that he got there around 10:30pm. Trevor, what do we know about what happened next?

Trevor Young 12:20

Well, we know that at around 11:45pm, two guys walk into the bar, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. And they're both 21 years old. They order pitchers of beer and sit down there there for a minute. There was one interesting thing I read where the bartender that night was actually interviewed. And he remembers them as both being like, kind of rude and somewhat like menacing, like sitting there, like there was just something off with these guys. Right? So anyway, around midnight, the two men walk up to Matthew, and the three of them are talking for a few minutes. And then finally, Henderson and McKinney offer Matthew a ride home, supposedly. They reportedly all left the bar together right after midnight. So they all pile into the front seat of Henderson's truck, Henderson's driving, and then things take a turn. So McKinney, claimed that Matthew made a pass at him by grabbing his leg. And so he reacted to this by apparently hitting Matthew in the face with a gun that he has with the butt of his gun. And where does this gun come from?

Rasha Pecoraro 13:30

Is that normal in Wyoming? Like you have a gun at a bar?

Yvette Gentile 13:34

I mean, it is a rural state. I mean, I don't know. 

Trevor Young 13:37

I mean, so if you think about Henderson's driving, I'm assuming Matthew's like maybe in the middle or in the like, kind of passenger side. But they're all like in that kind of like front full seated area. It's likely there was like maybe one in the dash.

Rasha Pecoraro 13:52

Right, right.

Trevor Young 13:53

Maybe in the glove compartment. Maybe that's where it was. And he hit him with that. I mean, of course, this is all just what we know from their testimony. Because, you know, obviously, we don't have Matthew's testimony. So.

Rasha Pecoraro 14:06

Right, right, right. Right. Right. I remember. So there's two things that I have to point out that comes right to mind when I'm thinking about things that Aaron McKinney said. One of course, you know, there's an amazing article from Vanity Fair, which I know we've gotten a lot of our research from there that Aaron said something along the lines of You know, guess what, we're not gay, and we're gonna jack you up. Like he said that to Matthew, and also in his recorded confession when he actually admitted to killing Matthew, he used multiple homophobic slurs. Like I'm not even gonna say the word so it's like his homophobia was like in him.

Trevor Young 14:46

You know, big issue is like, what was their intent here and in this moment, right, and I think already based on what you've described, like the intent feels clear already, right?

Yvette Gentile 14:57

I mean, we have to remember they were only in the bar, for what? 15 minutes, right, and they had ordered a pitcher of beer, and now all of a sudden, they're leaving with Matthew. Something's not right.

Trevor Young 15:10

Yeah, I mean, if you have a whole picture, you're gonna down it in 15 minutes. I think clearly they had a ulterior motives here. How planned it is so unclear. But it only does really get worse from this point on. So McKinney then orders Matthew to handover his wallet. Matthew complies, and hands over the wallet containing all of $30. And then McKinney continued to beat Matthew even after getting the wallet. ABC would later interview McKinney and they asked him why he kept on beating Matthew after he got his money. And he said, quote, sometimes when you have that kind of rage going through you, there's no stopping it. I've attacked my best friend's coming off of meth binges end quote. So yeah, this guy is not great. 

Yvette Gentile 16:01

I mean, it just seems like to me, Aaron McKinney was violent and, you know, hurt people hurt people. Yeah, right. Yep. Right. Yeah. It seems to me it was some sort of internalized homophobia. That was absolutely coming out.

Rasha Pecoraro 16:20

Mm hmm. Absolutely. And it's the reason I think that homophobia exists. There's, I think, you know, a few really big things. One, people can't wrap their head around someone else being gay. And I think that comes from or stems from, you know, religion, there are certain religions that have said how awful homosexuality is. That's why I have a very hard time walking into any church. But it's also that internalized homophobia stems from possibly like people who are gay themselves, and they hate themselves so much. You know, that they're taking this rage out on other people. Now I'm not saying that McKinney was gay and just, you know, I'm not saying that.

Trevor Young 17:03

He was closeted or something?

Rasha Pecoraro 17:04

Maybe. Do you know what I mean? Like, why else have so much rage? It just doesn't make any sense. Regardless of what the scenario was. Matthew was his target and his punching bag. And he, he didn't stop right. Henderson, you know, ended up driving all the way out to the eastern outskirts of Laramie into a neighborhood, this little housing development called Sherman Hills. They drove down an unpaved road until they reached a wooden buck fence. And a wooden buck fence is just a fence that basically is built in an X pattern, but it's super secluded, and the two men ended up forcing Matthew out of the car. So McKinney ordered Henderson, you know, McKinney's calling all the shots at this point, he ordered Henderson to tie Matthew to the fence post with a clothesline from the truck. Once Matthew was actually tied to the fence, McKinney proceeded to, again, viciously beat him with the butt of his gun.

Trevor Young 18:11

Yeah, just to give you an idea here. I actually looked at the autopsy report and the coroner said in the report that Shepard was struck 19 to 21 times in the head with the butt of a I guess it was a Magnum Smith and Wesson pistol. And that final blow from that pistol irreparably damaged Shepherd's brainstem.

Yvette Gentile 18:32

It's just the brutality of this is like, it's just, it's, it's horrible. It's horrendous, right? It's like, unbelievable. Yeah, I can't even comprehend somebody raging out like this and killing someone. I mean, I also read that Henderson supposedly, supposedly tried to stop McKinney. Yeah, hold him back. But he tried to cool them down. But the thing is, like, it's obvious that Aaron was the aggressor of the two. Right, right. And it kind of seemed like McKinney definitely was in charge. And Henderson. I mean, was he just going along with it?

Trevor Young 19:10

Yeah, I mean, when you Henderson tried to, like, stop him. I'm pretty sure like, McKinney like smacked him in the face with his gun and like, just like beat them into submission, you know, so. Yeah, I don't know if he's going down with it. But it's weird. 

Rasha Pecoraro 19:23

That still doesn't take him off the hook. 

Yvette Gentile 19:24

No, no, like, no,

Rasha Pecoraro 19:27

He was, okay, maybe like you said he wasn't the aggressor. He wasn't the main person, but he still let it happen. Right. And

Yvette Gentile 19:34

he's still drove to the fence where they did all this I mean, he's so..

Trevor Young 19:38

If you actually felt any remorse to I mean, he would have called the police immediately afterwards called an ambulance. But as we know that that doesn't happen, right? 

Rasha Pecoraro 19:45

They left him there to die. Like did they think he wasn't gonna die? I mean, like, I was even thinking about that in my head. Like, you know, like, you have this gun. Like, why are you beating him with a gun rather than one your fists or like, if you really want to kill him? Why aren't you shooting him? All right, I thought about that. And I'm like, Do you think maybe they thought that he was going to survive and that they were just going to teach this gay boy a lesson like I? 

Trevor Young 20:08

Maybe, maybe.

Yvette Gentile 20:10

Maybe we just we don't know what they thought obviously,

Trevor Young 20:13

I get the impression they like wanted to physically beat somebody, you know, like there was some sort of satisfaction that they got out of like causing someone pain rather than just like a quick death via a shot to the head or something.

Rasha Pecoraro 20:25

Yeah, yeah. Which makes it worse.

Yvette Gentile 20:27

Yeah. What 100% I mean, it was it's an it's an obvious rage, right? Like, we don't know what was building up in that what's

Rasha Pecoraro 20:35

behind that rage?

Yvette Gentile 20:36

What was behind that?

Trevor Young 20:38

Right? Well, anyways, they end up taking Matthew's shoes and wallet. And they get out of dodge leave him there in cold freezing temperatures. And then on their way back to Laramie, the two men get into a fight with two other men for some unrelated matter. I think they kind of stumbled upon these other two guys who are like in the middle of robbing a car. And they kind of call them out for it. And they ended up getting in this like weird scuffle. So it's because of this little scuffle that police are called to the scene. And McKinney and Henderson tried to run away from the police then. They left behind their truck with all of Matthew's belongings, like the wallet and his shoes. And they also leave behind the bloody gun that they used to beat him with.

Yvette Gentile 21:20

They leave all the evidence, right? 

Trevor Young 21:21

Yep. But one officer actually chased and tackled Henderson to the ground. So Henderson was arrested. But McKinney gets away.

Rasha Pecoraro 21:30


Yvette Gentile 21:31

Yeah, I mean, this is this story just gets crazier and crazier. So this is the thing, McKinney, he goes back to see his girlfriend, Kristen Price. And she said that he came home around 1:30 in the morning, and he was completely freaking out, panicking. And he just kept mumbling she said, he kept mumbling something like, I did something horrible. I did something horrible.

Trevor Young 22:00

So we need to take another break here. But we'll talk about the aftermath and what happened to Matthew and his assailants after we come back from a break.

Rasha Pecoraro 22:12

So Matthew was left there alone to die that night. And he was not found until the following day. At about 6pm, a passing mountain biker noticed what he thought was a scarecrow, tied to a fence. But as he stopped to look a little bit closer, he realized it was a human being a very small man. He ran to a nearby home immediately and use their phone because of course they didn't have cell phones at the time, or it wasn't easily accessible. So He immediately called authorities. Matthew was taken to a hospital in Laramie and then later transferred to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Trevor Young 23:02

And just real quick here was the official medical list of injuries that Matthew sustained fractures to the back of the head and front of the right ear, severe damage to the brainstem, like we mentioned earlier. And then around a dozen small lacerations on the face, head and neck. And so of course Matthew was comatose. Matthew's parents, Judy and Dennis flew in from Saudi Arabia that Friday night. And the doctors told them that Matthew would likely never emerge from his coma.

Yvette Gentile 23:34

But meanwhile, the story of what happened to Matthew, it blew up and it turned into a national news story. And weirdly, as it turns out, the Internet was still pretty new at this point. I mean, that's really hard to believe, but it was and it was a big part of this case, because apparently the Poudre Valley Hospital, they got 800,000 people that were have said to checked in on Matthew, and they would go to this particular website to see how he was doing every single day. This was like, you know, the early version, right of social media, right? 

Rasha Pecoraro 24:14

Pre social media. Yeah. 

Yvette Gentile 24:15

And a lot of the a lot of the celebrities are speaking out and taking platforms, you know, against this hate crime, like Oprah, like Elon, and even Nathan Lane, who I had read, you know, he had come out publicly to his family. But when this happened, when this horrific act happened to Matthew, he wanted more than anything to do it publicly. And he did so.

Rasha Pecoraro 24:43

Ah, he came out because Matthew.

Yvette Gentile 24:46

Yeah, he did. And even the Shepherd's even got a call from then President Bill Clinton, and he sent his best wishes for Matthew.

Rasha Pecoraro 24:56

But sadly, on October 12, 1998. In the early hours of the morning, Matthew Shepard succumbed to his injuries. Matthew never regained consciousness after the attack. Matthew was just 21 years old. I remember his father's speech in one of the trials and he said he was 50 days shy of turning 22.

Yvette Gentile 25:26

He was just a baby. So you know, when you think about it, his life was just beginning. And the life that he he wanted to be involved in, was being an advocate for change.

Rasha Pecoraro 25:34

One of the articles we read, I think someone said that he had wanted to become president one day, right? Like, that's the type of person Matthew was. Like, you knew, at least from everything everyone said about him that he was supposed to make a positive difference in this world in life. And, you know, now he's doing it in death.

Trevor Young 25:58

Well, I'm sure one big question that everybody has then is what happened to his assailants, the people responsible for this? Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.

Rasha Pecoraro 26:09

I want to know what happened. Yeah,

Trevor Young 26:12

Well, if you remember, McKinney fled from the police when Henderson was arrested and went to his girlfriend, and both men had girlfriends who helped them come up with alibis and kind of give them cover. Kristen Price, McKinney's girlfriend took them to the hospital, where he was admitted with a hairline fracture to the skull. Not really sure how that happened. Police would later say that she and Russell's girlfriend, a girl named Chastity Pasley then tried to get rid of the evidence for them. So they together drove 50 miles away all the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming. And there they took all of the evidence Henderson's bloody clothes and all, and they threw it away. And then they stashed his bloody shoes in a storage shed over at Chastity’s mom's house.

Yvette Gentile 26:58

Anyway, but apparently that didn't do much good because they made themselves, they made themselves accessories to the crime and bad ones. Right at that. 

Rasha Pecoraro 27:07

I mean, they told everybody everything.

Yvette Gentile 27:10

Right, yeah, exactly. But the police still found their boyfriends. I mean, obviously pretty quickly with all of the evidence that they left. I mean, it's pretty hard not to find, and they then arrested Aaron McKinney at the hospital.

Trevor Young 27:23

So as you can imagine, both of them are then charged with attempted murder, kidnapping, and also aggravated robbery that was later upgraded to first degree murder, meaning that they were both eligible for the death penalty. And then the two men's girlfriends Chastity Pasley and Kristen Price were also charged as accessories to the crime.

Rasha Pecoraro 27:44

Yeah, but but get this okay. Henderson actually made a deal to avoid the death penalty. He agreed to testify against McKinney. I mean, this really does not surprise me. It really doesn't I mean, based on how the whole murder happened, who was in charge, and you know, all the things, right? So he ended up being sentenced to two consecutive life terms and avoided a trial altogether. So I guess they weren't exactly the best of friends I guess.

Yvette Gentile 28:17

And no, when we think about, you know, the whole story, as I said earlier, we always knew in this story that Aaron McKinney was the leader of this particular pack, right? So and we knew that he was an asshole to him, and he did beat him and hit him in the face and ordered him around. So of course he's gonna turn on this was yeah, we knew this was coming.

Rasha Pecoraro 28:39

To save your own life? Yeah, I get. So even crazier was McKinney's trial. And the prosecution put forth the argument that the two men had pretended to be gay in order to gain Matthew’s trust and lure him into their car because why else would Matthew have gotten into that truck? I mean, really?

Yvette Gentile 29:03


Rasha Pecoraro 29:03

He would have to feel safe, especially, you know, knowing how other people are in that town. That was also actually backed up by the testimony of Price, McKinney's girlfriend, who said virtually the same thing that they were pretending to be gay to get him into the truck. Well, because,

Trevor Young 29:21

You know, McKinney came home at night to her and essentially it just confessed everything to her. Right right. So I mean, she got that straight out of McKinney's mouth. So that made it pretty glaringly obvious testimony.

Yvette Gentile 29:33

Right. “I did horrible things.” Yeah. Right.

Rasha Pecoraro 29:35

Oh my gosh. But then the defense came up with in my humble opinion, they came up with two completely asinine and disgusting arguments, and I'm gonna get pissed off about it. So Trevor, why don't you tell us so that I'm not yelling into my microphone.

Trevor Young 29:54

Right so the first one was that it was just an attempted robbery gone wrong and that you know, all of this was Just about getting the 30 bucks in Matthew's wallet, which is crazy. And then the other one they use is another one that we've heard about before, and is a big point of contention in public forums. And that is the "gay panic defense." So the gay panic defense suggests that when a straight person has some sort of unwanted sexual advance made upon them by someone of the same sex, which is what McKinney claimed that Matthew had done to him in the car, that they then go into a fit of rage, akin to, I guess, temporary insanity. McKinney's lawyers believe this would prove that the attack was not premeditated, right that this was just like a reaction. It was just like a gut instinct. And therefore it was, I guess, less heinous in their eyes. So people have used the gay panic defense before. And I think since then, we've all come to an agreement as a society that It's nonsensical. This isn't a thing.

Yvette Gentile 30:55

No, no. And thankfully, like in July of 2019, in these particular states, they cannot use this at all. It's been banned. And that's California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Nevada, Connecticut, Maine, and Hawaii.

Rasha Pecoraro 31:11

That's every state that the gay panic defense is not a valid argument. 

Yvette Gentile 31:15

Right. Right. It's banned. You cannot use it. 

Rasha Pecoraro 31:18

How sad is that? We have 50 states in our beautiful country. And that's not you did not read me. 50 states. That's what gets me.

Yvette Gentile 31:26

No, I didn't. I know.

Trevor Young 31:28

Yeah. I mean, my understanding reading online on Reddit about kind of legal practices is that the gay panic defense is still kind of widely considered a joke. Like it rarely actually makes it through any sort of legitimate legal proceeding anymore.

Rasha Pecoraro 31:41

Okay. Okay. I'll calm down a little bit. 

Trevor Young 31:44

No, no, I mean, it's like a super valid concern to have. And it was a lot more common, I think back in the 90s, and 80s, and even early 2000s. But yeah, it's come a long way for what it's worth, you know, the really the only time you ever see it anymore, isn't these kind of high profile cases where they're kind of using it as a Hail Mary of some sort to get them off. But, you know, I think for whatever it is worth, you know, the Matthew Shepard case, was a big public example of how this panic defense can be used very poorly. And ultimately helped it, you know, kind of get blacklisted from legal right defense proceedings. 

Rasha Pecoraro 32:23

So that's why we're here, right? We're, we're here to make a positive difference. And you're so right, because Matthew, his case, thank goodness, the judge dismissed the gay panic defense. And so the jury ultimately found Aaron McKinney, guilty of first degree murder. But in a very interesting and compassionate twist. The Shepherds actually stepped in to save Aaron McKinney from the death penalty. On November 5th, Judy Shepard made a deal with McKinney's lawyers to actually save his life. And so Aaron McKinney was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. And I have to say, I know, I know, I honestly prior to today, not that I didn't think that Dennis, you know, Matthew's father, you know, was supportive of this, but I've always heard Judy, right. Judy kept saying, you know, how she's forgiving him and, and wanting to save his life. But when I watched, Yvette had me watch The Laramie Project today, which is an incredible film.

Yvette Gentile 33:42

Powerful, powerful. 

Rasha Pecoraro 33:43

Yeah, based on, you know, a play, but it's it's taken from actual transcripts of what the people in Laramie said like they came in, they interviewed all these people. And they they, they reenacted Dennis Shepherd's speech at Aaron McKinney's trial. And he basically said to him, like Judy, and I believe in the death penalty, however, we believe in healing. And that is why we're giving you life. You deserve to die. But we're giving you the gift of life so that you think about Matthew Shepard every single day. Yep.

Yvette Gentile 34:17

Every single day, yeah, that was that was so powerful. So there was one sliver of good to come out of this tragedy. And that was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. So Trevor, can you tell us a little bit about this?

Trevor Young 34:36

I sure can. So the other name on that bill is James Byrd, obviously, and a little bit about him. He was a black man who was decapitated by three white supremacist after they dragged him behind their truck and the same year 1998. Those two names are attached to this bill and the bill does a few things, such as in the federal hate crime statute, it removes the requirement that victims are targeted because they are engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting or attending school, for example. The bill also extends the hate crime statute to cover violent crimes based on a person's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. None of those things were there before.

Rasha Pecoraro 35:18


Trevor Young 35:19

The bill authorizes the Department of Justice to assist state and local governments in investigating or prosecuting hate crimes, so they can get the support of the FBI or other federal agencies, you know, when looking into cases like Matthew's. And then lastly, it authorizes grants to jurisdictions, local police forces to help investigate and prosecute these hate crimes. So just giving them more money, you know, more feet on the ground to make sure it gets the proper investigation it needs. Anyways, this bill was signed into law in 2009, by Barack Obama.

Rasha Pecoraro 35:53

To me like this bill was so important, but it's also rather heartbreaking that it took from 1998 to 2009, to be signed into law, right. I did find this report from the Human Rights Campaign, or better known as the HRC, which tells us that hate crimes based on sexual orientation represent 16.7% of hate crimes. And that's the third largest category after race, and religion. 

Yvette Gentile 36:22

Right, right. And I mean, I can only imagine how much worse those numbers are, especially in a small town like Laramie. Right? I mean, when we think about it back in the 90s, I mean, I mean, we can think about it back in the 90s. But we can think about it now, too, right? Still to this day, you know, but the, the anti gay sentiment was, was just even worse back then. But we still have so much work to do, you know, still.

Rasha Pecoraro 36:52

100% And you have to remember to that's like, the height of the AIDS epidemic. Right. It could not have been easy for Matthew to to live in that environment and be out in that environment, especially in Laramie. I mean, he probably couldn't even say that he was was gay, because, you know, homosexuality had this paranoia and the stigma that was surrounding it. I think it's much better now, personally, you know.

Trevor Young 37:23

yeah, I want to maybe dig into that just for a second, which is, you know, this concept of being gay in small town America. I think it's something you know, we don't really talk about a lot now. So Vanity Fair actually interviewed a number of local folks over in Laramie, just to get a better idea of the culture and what people thought of gay people there. And there's one quote in the article that says, quote, a number of residents told me that they consider Matthew Shepard the first gay person that they ever, quote, unquote, met. So obviously, people aren't exposed to a lot of gay people in small towns like Laramie, there was one interviewee named Milt Greene, who said he thought Matthew’s murder was, quote, “a stupid crime.” But he also said, “I have a hard time relating to homosexuality. I don't understand it,” end quote, so again, there's a lot of I don't want to say ignorance, but just lack of understanding of gay people in these small towns.

Yvette Gentile 38:18

Right. And, and I think it's just, you know, people are so accustomed to growing up and being taught certain things, right, by their parents, and they haven't stepped outside of that world to do and know better. And that's why that's why we have so much work to do so much work to do so much work, especially like educating folks on, on everything on gay people on gay issues, right. And this, this show, and talking about these cases, like it really inspires me as a human being, just to do better to be better at all times. 

Trevor Young 38:59

Yeah, yeah. I think Matthew being in this kind of small town was maybe not the best thing for him. I think it made him especially vulnerable to, you know, be gay, having gone through what he went through, you know, when he was sexually assaulted, and then having to be, you know, in this small town that doesn't really understand him, especially in the 90s. Like we're all saying, you know, I mean, Rasha, you live in Portland. Yeah, I live in Los Angeles, Yvette, you live in San Francisco. I think for places like this, it's so much easier to much safer. Yeah, it's safer, you know, as like queer people, we can, you know, walk down the street and not really fear as much for our lives. But as there's kind of, you know, testimonies from those local Laramie people say, you know, they just they don't understand gay people, they don't really know anything about gay people. And that leads to problems just like what happened to Matthew. So I guess the big question here is, what do we do about that? I mean, we're making progress but how we change that.

Rasha Pecoraro 40:01

And there's two huge things that we can do. One, I truly believe that representation matters, like, the great Harvey Milk, that one of the most amazing gay icons, you know, he told people, like, come out, like, come out, be out, like the more gay people that people know, they'll realize like, oh, like Rasha's just, you know, a great, nice person. Trevor's a nice, beautiful person, you know, like, representation matters. I think the more people that are out, I think this safer it will be because there'll be more of us in numbers. But I think the real like, great answer is also creating safe spaces for gay people everywhere, even in those small towns, especially in the small towns.

Yvette Gentile 40:52

Right. Especially and that's like when we were watching, you know, the show The Laramie Project today. It's like, there was a community, you know, they were small in numbers to begin with, but after this happen, after this tragedy happened, the numbers started to grow. Right. 

Rasha Pecoraro 41:10

More people came out in Laramie.

Yvette Gentile 41:10

More people came out, yes, that have lived their, you know, their whole lives. They, they came out so you know, unfortunately, and we talk about this all the time, why does it always take, you know, tragedy to make change happen? Well, we're near the end of the show today. And that means it's time for our imua, our final message of hope and healing. I'd like to use this opportunity to honor Matthew, his family, and most of all, his mother, Judy, you have to remember, she chose to help save the life of the man who killed her son. We can all learn about unconditional compassion from Judy Shepard.

Rasha Pecoraro 41:59

Absolutely. She was faced with such an incredibly painful and violent situation. Yet, she responded with kindness. And I think we need more people like Judy Shepherd in the world, because maybe if we had more Judy Shepherds, more people who led with kindness, we'd have less tragedies like the murder of Matthew Shepard. Lead with kindness, onward and upward. Imua,

Yvette Gentile 42:31


Rasha Pecoraro 42:37

Well, that's our show for today. We'd love to hear what you thought about today's discussion. And if there's a case you'd like us to cover, you can always find us on social media or email us at facingevil pod@tenderfoot.tv

Yvette Gentile 42:50

Until next time, aloha.

Trevor Young 43:22

Facing Evil is a production of iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV. The show is hosted by Rasha Pecoraro and Yvette Gentile. Matt Frederick and Alex Williams, are executive producers on behalf of iHeartRadio with producers Trevor Young and Jessie Funk. Donald Albright and Payne Lindsey are executive producers on behalf of TenderfootTV, alongside producer Tracy Kaplan. Our researcher is Claudia Dafrico. Original Music by Makeup and Vanity set. 

Find us on social media or email us at facingevilpod@tenderfoot.tv

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