For most people — certainly people with any sense of decency — the news of Brianna’s Ghey death on Saturday, 11th February 2023, was devastating. The loss of any trans or non-binary person is a tragedy and a loss profoundly felt throughout the community, but Brianna was stabbed to death in an act of violence in a country where the narrative around trans people from highest reaches of Westminster government to the lowest gutters of the British print media has been one of deliberate hostility.
I’m not going to speculate on the why’s and specifics of Brianna’s death. At the time of writing this two suspects have been charged and remanded to custody and so this matter is sub judice — before the courts and so therefore discussion of it beyond the basic facts of the case is unlawful and could prejudice the case — but the media, public, and the so-called ‘Gender Critical’ hate movement’s response to these events has viscerally brought back memories from another time.
In 1998 Matthew Shepard, a student at Wyoming University and gay, was murdered in a brutal attack. And American society reacted in numerous ways. The very worst strands of society — much like a certain blonde fascist — publicly celebrated his murder, while others claimed he was ‘asking for it’ for being gay. Mostly, however, society was shocked by what happened and campaigns were started to recognise that his and other LGBTQ+ peoples murders were being motivated by the fact they were queer.
It took eleven years for legislation to be passed at a federal level recognising that hate could be and was the factor in the targeted deaths of queer people. In 2009 Barack Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The reason it took so long to get that legislation in place was sadly predictable for reasons that we’ve seen in the immediate aftermath of Brianna’s death. For eleven years and more following Matthew Shepard’s murder, Republicans and religiously-driven fundamentalist extremists tried everything they could to discredit the facts of Matthew’s murder, spreading disinformation through speeches and printed articles. They claimed that his death had nothing to do with the fact that he was gay, that it was nothing more than a robbery gone wrong despite the fact that Matthew had been tortured by his murderers and that his murderers attempted to use a gay panic defence. In the immediate aftermath of Matthew’s horrific murder they demanded that media and the queer community alike stop referring to it as a crime motivated by hate. Demanded that people stopped pointing out the obvious that Matthew’s sexuality was a factor in why he was targeted to be murdered.
Even today, 23 years after Matthew’s murder, the same narrative is being pushed by the same people. Conspiracy theories long since debunked in court being pushed by individuals who have dedicated their adult lives to attempting to stamp out and eradicate queer visibility, queer culture, and queer people.
The parallels of then with today are stark. I wish they weren’t, but decades of hate peddled by a press industry in the UK that makes money from metaphorically punching minorities and over a decade of rule by Westminster Tory governments that have decided to indulge in the worst excesses of the US Republican party to win elections has left the UK in the same place as where the US was when Matthew Shepard was tortured and killed for the ‘crime’ of simply existing.