Cover image for Losing Matt Shepard : life and politics in the aftermath of anti-gay murder
Losing Matt Shepard : life and politics in the aftermath of anti-gay murder
Loffreda, Beth.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiv, 189 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV6250.4.H66 L63 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HV6250.4.H66 L63 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HV6250.4.H66 L63 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



The infamous murder in October 1998 of a twenty-one-year-old gay University of Wyoming student ignited a media frenzy. The crime resonated deeply with America's bitter history of violence against minorities, and something about Matt Shepard himself struck a chord with people across the nation. Although the details of the tragedy are familiar to most people, the complex and ever-shifting context of the killing is not. Losing Matt Shepard explores why the murder still haunts us--and why it should.

Beth Loffreda is uniquely qualified to write this account. As a professor new to the state and a straight faculty advisor to the campus Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Association, she is both an insider and outsider to the events. She draws upon her own penetrating observations as well as dozens of interviews with students, townspeople, police officers, journalists, state politicians, activists, and gay and lesbian residents to make visible the knot of forces tied together by the fate of this young man.

This book shows how the politics of sexuality--perhaps now the most divisive issue in America's culture wars--unfolds in a remote and sparsely populated area of the country. Loffreda brilliantly captures daily life since October 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming--a community in a rural, poor, conservative, and breathtakingly beautiful state without a single gay bar or bookstore. Rather than focus only on Matt Shepard, she presents a full range of characters, including a panoply of locals (both gay and straight), the national gay activists who quickly descended on Laramie, the indefatigable homicide investigators, the often unreflective journalists of the national media, and even a cameo appearance by Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Loffreda courses through a wide ambit of events: from the attempts by students and townspeople to rise above the anti-gay theatrics of defrocked minister Fred Phelps to the spontaneous, grassroots support for Matt at the university's homecoming parade, from the emotionally charged town council discussions about bias crimes legislation to the tireless efforts of the investigators to trace that grim night's trail of evidence. Charting these and many other events, Losing Matt Shepard not only recounts the typical responses to Matt's death but also the surprising stories of those whose lives were transformed but ignored in the media frenzy.

Author Notes

Beth Loffreda is assistant professor of English and adjunct professor of women's studies at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1998, the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, shocked the country. His death and the subsequent trials of his two (ultimately convicted) murderers made headlines for more than a year. In this pungent and astute account, Loffreda, an assistant professor of English at Shepard's alma mater and the faculty adviser to the campus's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Association, details not only the murder and trials but also the profound effect of the ensuing publicity upon a basically decent and friendly community. Loffreda mixes a journalist's sharp eye with a sociologist's attentiveness to such issues as class, race, homophobia and gender, deftly bringing together interviews with Laramie's gay and straight residents, news reporting and cultural analysis. By debunking much of the media coverage (Shepard was not tied to a fence like a scarecrow), humanizing those convicted of the crime (Chasity Pasley, who supplied a fake alibi for one of the killers, worked closely with the campus gay group) and raising difficult questions (gay residents of Laramie were furious that little of the intense fund-raising for lesbian and gay causes that occurred around Shepard's death benefited local gay causes), she paints a judicious portrait of how such a murder could happen, and how the town was caught in the jaws of the national media circus that ensued. Getting behind the headlines, preconceptions and easy stereotypes, Loffreda has produced a book that mixes intelligence and compassion with crack reporting and sharp insight. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Loffreda, an assistant English professor at the University of Wyoming and the straight faculty adviser to the campus Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Association, was new to the state in October 1998 when the brutal murder of 21-year-old Matt Shepard immediately became a flashpoint for the politics of sexuality in America. In an attempt to understand how and why this murder and not others in Laramie or around the country came to represent such deep-seated polarization, Loffreda observed and interviewed long-time locals, students, and the many people who descended on Laramie after the murder, including activists, journalists, politicians, and homicide investigators. In the aftermath of the media frenzy, Laramie narrowly passed a bias crimes law. This well-written account gets beyond the area's demographics and typical responses to the crime to uncover uncomfortable complexities and contradictions that belie our assumptions about this episode, which is far from the end of the story. This is a good cross-over book for understanding the complexity of peoples' struggle for (and opposition to) gay rights. Recommended for all public libraries. [See "Revisiting Laramie after the Trauma," p. 237, for an interview with the author.DEd.]DJames E. Van Buskirk, San Francisco P.L (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-Matt Shepard was tied to a fence and fatally beaten by two young men in Laramie, WY, in 1998, because he was gay. After his death, he was taken up as a symbol by various groups: rock stars wrote songs about him, celebrities gave speeches, proponents of hate-crimes legislation rallied with renewed rage. Christian Fundamentalists picketed not only the trial, but also the young man's funeral. One of the first questions Loffreda asks is: "Why Matt?" It can't be, as some rightists have claimed, "just because he was gay." There were 33 other anti-gay murders that year that received little or no attention. Did the fact that Matt was white, blond, good-looking, and clean-cut contribute to his media "appeal?" Was the crime's location a factor? How about gender? Two Laramie girls had been raped and killed around the same time. Did his murder resonate more because there are so many crimes against females that they no longer make "good copy?" Such questions are asked in the spirit of inquiry, not accusation, and lead to new thought. As the author examines the cultural repercussions of Shepard's death, she also provides an objective history of hate crimes and the efforts at legislation, taking both extreme conservatives and extreme liberals to task along the way. This is a timely book for today's YAs, as they begin to question the attitudes and patterns of the political and social spheres they're soon to inherit.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Author's Note
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6 A Note on Sources