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Thank you for sharing. Never knew of the drug dealing or that Sheppard had a drug problem. Play stupid games win stupid prizes. I feel for the people of Laramie and all other small towns in America always painted in a bigoted light used by the media and political parties to spread hatred for each other and in our country. Still the best country I know!

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This was a pretty heartbreaking read, and then listen - the podcast is well, well worth the time relative to the short summary that is the article. Perhaps most heartbreaking to me was listening to the people he interviewed at Pride, all to a person not just disinterested in the factual reality, but resentful of the very idea that the factual reality should be of any import whatsoever. I thought Ben’s defense of truth on its own merits was compelling in its specificity - I would not have come up with a defense nearly as compelling on the spot in an interview. But upon some reflection, I want, if perhaps into the void, to add a small defense of my own.

Trust is perhaps the hardest won, and most delicate thing in this world. A great deal more is untrue than is true. Almost nothing is entirely true. Probabilistic universe and all that. Trust should be hard earned in this context. It demands an immense leap of faith. Lies, on the other hand, are cheap and plentiful. It is much easier to build a cause on lies for this reason. They are simply easier to come by, and can be conjured whenever needed to buttress whatever you need to buttress. But to do so is to resign your cause to ephemerality, and to undermine the work of those who share it and wish to see it endure. Not only does a foundation of lies besmirch any claim you might stake to justice, it will never replicate the impact of convincing someone your cause is just because it derives from what is true. If it’s just one of many competing myths, what incentive is there to stray from the comfort of your pre-existing internal narrative? Your identity is likely built on that narrative. It is a costly thing to reconstruct. So yes, the reality of a cultural touchstone moment like this very much does matter. Because if it is the foundation of what changed someone’s mind and values, imagine the indignation and retrograde you will reap if and when they learn as much. Any grander truth you built on top of it is now in danger of falling into the quicksand along with it.

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Having lived through the 80s and 90s as an adult, I witnessed (and experienced) the hatred against gays and lesbians. Like many other groups in American history, they had become the scapegoat for everyone else's sins. One could say, "sure I'm an adulterer (or your sin here), but at least I'm not gay" and walk away functionally blameless. However, the LGB movement, which already controlled or had sympathizers in the major media by the late 90s, always placed narrative ahead of truth. There was enough truth to build a case that people shouldn't be discriminated against because they were gay. Sadly, however, the narrative took over and shoved the truth aside. As long as falsehoods or outright lies accomplished the purpose it was full speed ahead. I think, however, that it makes the LGB movement much more fragile than it would have been. All it's going to take is a shift in the political and cultural wind to knock it down again. In America what we celebrate today, we demonize tomorrow--just look at teachers, police officers, fathers, affirmative action....

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A number of years ago Stephen Jimenez was on Book TV. I have no idea if the segment still exists or not. He gave his talk about his book and was roundly booed. You can do a similar examination of Harvey Milk and why he was killed. Less to do with his being Gay than a disgruntled man who didn't get a job. Or the fact that a lot of the Bathhouses in SF that fought to remain open even after Aids became a major epidemic were owned by Gay men who were making a lot of money off of them. Money trumps sex or group identity. Just ask the Mafia.

People, groups ,love their myths. They are the ties that bind. and also blind.

For every Emmett Till and Isaac Woodard there are tens of Jussie Smolletts. Cry wolf enough and when the real wolf appears no one believes you.

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Jul 1Liked by Ben Kawaller

"Mostly, though, the crime left me with a fear of my fellow citizens—more or less anyone outside the tristate area. Venture into the heartland, it seemed, and you could very well end up meeting a bloody death at the hands of a couple of rednecks out to teach a fag a lesson."

If the author is right, and many took what was a drug crime and twisted it to their purposes, branding whole swaths of people bigoted, then that is terrible. But part of what made that possible was the author's readiness to tar a vast swath of the country with what turned out to be a misused brush.

It is terrible when people generalize - either because of race, religion, or sexual orientation. What this author admitted to doing was no different, and just as bad.

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Ben seemed a lot more restrained in this one. It must have hit pretty close to home for him since the story was so ubiquitous during the period he came out. All that righteous indignation to stand up to the midwestern bigots … only to realize … sigh.

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founding

Thank you Ben and Bari, for bring up this issue. And the associated prejudice that the urbanites have been spreading for years that rural, small towns are homophobic and angry.

I grew up in a very small town in the 60s. One of the young men in our community (ten years older than me) was gay (whatever we called it back then) and it was known to all and no one cared and he was part of the Boy Scouts and chaperoned camping trips. No one cared. In the 70's this person moved to San Francisco to be part of the robust gay community there. He unfortunately contracted AIDS in San Francisco. He moved back to his small town to be with his mother and he died there in the early 80s. In those last years, he regularly came into my fishery and bought fish for his mother and himself. We never talked much--I was young and shy and he was quiet and proud. His dying was mourned by the little community.

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Great job, Ben. Good for you for asking the hard questions. I appreciate you coming out to rural America to find out what is really going on outside of the urban elitist bubble, and I appreciate how I see you growing as a person through your work. Keep it coming.

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Andrew Sullivan talked about the myth surrounding the why's of Matthew Shepherd's death many years ago and the devastating effects of meth in the gay community - that no one is talking about including gays.

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You really didn't know until 2019?

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What a disappointing article. All I found here was bits of hearsay.

The fact that there may have been a drug deal intertwined with the Matthew Shepherd story does not change the fact that it was also fueled by gay hatred, and the article completely does not address, the homophobia that did permeate were all America.

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The whole point to the article is that it may not, in fact, have been fueled by discrimination against the gay community. If you have proof that it WAS fueled by "gay hatred", as you put it, it would be helpful to share it so that the author might be corrected.

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I don't think there is anything I admire more in a person than the curiosity to search for the truth, the courage to speak the truth, and the ability to change one's mind when faced with the truth. Ben is a National Treasure. I wish there were 1000's more.

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Amen....with Honorable Mention to the guy in the video also willing to listen, learn, and re-think.

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founding

I was born and raised in Milwaukee but lived in areas as diverse as Pittsburgh region of Pennsylvania, Evanston, Illinois, Cannes, France and for five years, Kemmerer, WY.

Kemmerer was small, rural, and the majority of residents there practice Mormonism -- all factors that in our country might lend themselves to the narrative that the area most must be both racist and homophobic.

The former county commissioner that you interviewed made the comment that he felt it was easier to be gay in Wyoming than anywhere else, because in Wyoming, each person is dealt with on an individualized basis.

This statement was of great interest to me because, I was frequently asked about Wyoming vis-a-vis racism and homophobia in that knowing way that people ask when they already assume something is true. And I often gave very similar response - that in Wyoming, people really don't care what race, ethnicity, or gender you are, or what your sexual preference is. What they care about is whether you are a hard worker, and if you are a keeper of your word.

I left Wyoming 11 years ago, and still find it to be one of the fairest, most straightforward places I have ever been, where people are no respectors of persons and where character is the thing that matters the most.

Ben, I so appreciate not only your staunch quest for truth, but also the determination it takes to follow through the threads that you investigate.

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Homophobia is a bugbear which mostly doesn't exist. In the notoriously homophobic (that was sarcasm) 1960s, the highest earning solo performer was Liberace; the man was the very definition of Flamboyant. In the also notoriously homophobic (again sarcasm) 1970s, the highest earning solo performer was Elton John, whose flamboyancy whilst brilliant, was vastly overshadowed by Liberace. We knew they were gay, no body cared.

Along comes gay marriage, does the gay community graciously accept their win? —No, they proceed to rub everyone's noses in it. This is the legacy of Matthew's murder, a legacy of lies and deceit. There were gay meth-heads in Laramie, and no one cared. According to the Sheriff's report, Matthew was murdered by a former lover—and new partner—over unpaid drug loans; its there in the report, go google it yourself.

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Liberace and Elton John (and Paul Lynde) notwithstanding, there's no doubt that there is much greater acceptance of gays now than there was before. Two men having sex was illegal in California until 1976. Being gay was considered a form of mental illness by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association until the 1970s. Gays could be confined to mental hospitals and asylums. Churches almost uniformly condemned homosexuality as a sin. Many still do. Gay bashings were not uncommon, and they still happen. The police took little interest in them, which is why they didn't show up in the statistics.

All of this would have continued if the 1960s hadn't happened. Other groups benefited first, but it was only a matter of time before gays would as well. Unfortunately, the Left hijacked all of the freedom and liberation movements of the sixties and weaponized them for its own purposes. This is when intolerance (that wasn't there) began to be invented. The gay community allowed this to happen, and there is a risk of eventual blowback. That's the reason why an article such as this is so significant and important. The powerful and unscrupulous succeed by dividing people. We shouldn't allow them to do it.

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Homophobia mostly doesn't exist? What world are you living in? It's gone down a lot over the past 20 years but to claim it was never a thing completely ignores reality. When I was coming out in the 90s in Dallas, a gay 64 year old was beaten to death by two guys yelling "faggot". I moved to LA and a young guy my age was beaten with a baseball bat buy some guys that did this multiple times. And if you think there were not gay bashers in Wyoming when Matthew was murdered (in a meth deal) then I've got video of Biden running a marathon yesterday....and winning.

What an ignorant comment

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Perhaps its more comfortable to consider yourself part of an oppressed minority, than part of the accepted majority—its a whole lot harder to consider oneself 'special' if the latter be the case. The year Matthew was murdered, the FBI reports 3 gay hate crime murders, three. Not thousands, nor even hundreds, but single digits.

If your little clique goes around thinking the big bad world is full of hate, you'll certainly behave in a manner which generates resentment in others; voila: a self fulfilling prophesy.

You're not in grave danger, but it sure builds camaraderie to go around telling each other scary stories: oh how we're an oppressed minority.

Reality is quite different.

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A wonderful and honest production Ben! Thanks for having the courage to tell the real story that runs counter to the popular narrative.

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Thanks also to Bari and the FP for same.

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Ben, thank you for this piece. It’s excellent.

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