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Thursday, Sep 18, 2008, 11:42 am

Laramie, Wyoming, 10 Years Later

By Jarrett Dapier

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The NY Times ran a piece on Tuesday about Laramie, Wyoming and the Tectonic Theatre Project, the troupe that created the immensely successful play, "The Laramie Project." That play, about the people of Wyoming before and after Matthew Shepard's death, was a moving piece of drama that explored not only the journey of many local citizens in grappling with Shepard's murder, but was also the story of the actors and writers who created it and the relationships they formed with the town's people.

In honor of the upcoming 10 year anniversary of Matthew Shepard's murder on October 12th, Tectonic returned to Laramie to re-interview many of the play's subjects to assess whether anything has changed for gays and lesbians in Wyoming. They returned also in the hope that Laramie's citizens have found some peace after these 10 years. Not by much, it seems. The town doesn't plan to commemorate Shepard's death, nor is there even a marker or memorial sign where Shepard laid dying for 18 hours. (After directing the play in 2001, I drove to Laramie to see the town and the spot where Shepard laid is lonely, yet peaceful, eerie, yet calm, isolated, windswept and cold with a view of high plains laying out before you like a patchy blanket). Understandably, the town was shell-shocked first by Shepard's murder and then shell-shocked again by the subsequent cacophonous descent of national and international media on the town. So, one can understand the need to move on and not look back, the fear of opening old wounds through commemoration, the desire to withdraw from the public eye, and shut down discussion to avoid any future pain.

But, though painful, grappling with and talking about this sort of violence against gays and lesbians across our nation is the only way to find peace and ultimately end it. Laramie was no aberration. It wasn't then and it isn't now. Just this year a 15 year old boy, Lawrence King, who had come out was executed in his classroom by a fellow classmate who was 14. Judy Shepard, Matthew's mother is hard at work fighting to remember Matthew by fighting discrimination and hate crimes, but what can we do? Acknowledge we still have a problem. Support candidates who do not use the constitution to discriminate, who support same-sex marriage (or the more tepid same-sex "unions,"), give to the ACLU's LGBT project, write letters to the editor, speak up when someone belittles another for their sexuality.

Gay rights are human rights. Sounds cliche now, but it bears repeating in the face of violence like what occurred to Shepard and King (and the hundreds of other kids across the nation who are homeless, and physically and verbally abused due to their sexuality). A lot of critics have turned on "The Laramie Project" calling its brand of docudrama inherently undramatic and manipulative. But, I for one am glad to see a brief return to this play. I'm happy to see a return to talking about the violence brought down on a young gay man on a bitterly windswept plain in Laramie, Wyoming 10 years ago. And the perspective of the people there 10 years on, their experience and how they've changed since then (if at all), can be an instrumental part in deepening the conversation about hate crimes and violence in our country. But, first we have to listen to them.

Jarrett Dapier is a former assistant publisher at In These Times. Previous work for ITT includes interviews with playwright Christopher Shinn and Fugazi guitarist, Ian Mackaye. He currently works with teens at the Evanston Public Library where he runs a recycled drumming program and directs stage adaptations of young adult literature. He lives in Evanston, IL.

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