After reading an article about how Appalachian State University rejected a memoir by Judy Shepard from their summer reading program, I was intrigued as to know why. On Appalachian State’s website it states that the Program is designed so “students establish a common experience with other students that will help develop a sense of community with their new environment and introduce them to a part of the academic life they are beginning at Appalachian.” Keeping this in mission statement in mind, the article states the reasoning behind the rejection of the book. Kathy Staley, an archivist at App State’s Belk Library, claimed that The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed was found by some to contain “homophobic” passages. I became curious as to what these “homophobic passages” could be, so I picked up a copy of the book.
Throughout the memoir, the life of Matthew, according to his mother based upon her own and close friends and family of Matthew accounts, is portrayed from his first few days of infancy, to the last brutal days he spent here on earth. The audience sees the trials and troubles Matthew faced, not only about coming to terms with his own sexuality and the acceptance or rejection of others, but also how he battled with clinical depression, was raped in a foreign city, had a drinking problem, wrote bad checks and had some run-in’s with the law. However, the readers also experience the passion Matthew felt towards others, his curiosity towards politics, languages, and international affairs, as well as his openness and compassion towards those around him.
More importantly, though, is that the readers get a glimpse of the pain and brutality that Matthew experienced as he was beaten and left to die, as well as the heartbreak and devastation felt by his family. As the memoir vividly describes how Matthew was mercilessly attacked, his final days in ICU, his death, and the trial which convicted his two killers, the most important aspect of the book was how Matthew’s death opened the eyes of our nation towards the injustice and intolerance for those who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered.
I read this book cover to cover and found no passages I would deem as “homophobic”. I feel the passages articulated the hatred and ignorance of many Americans and would dare to say that this book struck a nerve with Appalachian State due to its brutal honesty and the assumption that Appalachian State did not want to face the impact it would have on its community. Additionally, it was stated by Professor Emory Maiden, the head of the summer reading program, that “[Ms. Shepard] was a grief-stricken mother [who] had gotten into print on a subject that she neither wholly understood nor have [sic] a broad experience with.” Therefore, Maiden believed that Ms. Shepard did not speak with authenticity on matters such as hate-based violence. However, as I read Ms. Shepard’s accounts, she blatantly admitted to being hesitant to speak on behalf of LGBT legislative issues originially, due to the fact that she was not an expert when she first started. However, with the guidance of true experts, she began her trek on learning and becoming familiar with current issues. After twelve years of lobbying for hate-crime legislation and being a mother who lost her son to a hate-crime act, how could she not be an expert on the issue at hand? Though she did not ask or seek out this position, Ms. Shepard has used her son’s story to pave a way toward prevention of further ruthless acts. She has spoken at a number of college campuses and corporations informing individuals about what the can do to make this world a more accepting place.
The university ended up choosing Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, an award winning book which addresses social justice issues. Though I do not find any wrong in choosing a different book, I do believe that the reasoning as to why the book was not chosen depicts the ignorance and intolerance that the book itself speaks so strongly against. To find this book as “homophobic”, albeit only two accounts of this was made, speaks greatly of the incomprehension and closed-mindedness within our nation today.
What do you think? Do you think, regardless of your personal opinions towards LBGT issues, that Appalachian State University’s reasoning for dismissing this book was justified and in line with their reasonings for the Program? Did this statement portray the sense of community that the Program is designed to instill?