October 18, 2009

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later

Posted in Look tagged , at 6:35 pm by onetinyacorn

This was the first year that I’ve lived in Laramie during the anniversary of the Matthew Shepard murder. I was curious to see what the town did to commemorate the brutal event–often the one thing that the rest of the country knows about Laramie. The University of Wyoming Theater Department was one of 150 theaters to simultaneously debut “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” last week. I think that the play did an excellent job of summarizing the range of reactions that have populated not just Laramie, but the country as well. As in life, there are no tidy conclusions.

I was 19 when the murder happened, and living in Ohio. It was sickening then, and it’s sickening now. Laramie had the opportunity to host a panel discussion after the play, which included friends of Matthew, a police officer who worked on the case, and advocates in the community. I learned that the local newspaper propagated the theory, dismantled during the trial, that it was not a hate crime, but a “robbery gone wrong.” And that when scores of people wrote letters to the editor to provide the factual counterpoint, the newspaper declined to print a single one of them. I learned that the bar where the murderers conspired is still in existence, but under a new name and ownership. The interior is the same–I don’t think that I can go in there and enjoy myself, knowing what transpired there. I learned that at the University of Wyoming, same-sex couples have been promised domestic partner benefits–once the budget cuts have passed.

Citizens of Laramie are understandably sensitive about how this town is portrayed. As a newcomer, I can’t remark on the state of community relations. The advisor for Spectrum, the LGBT group on campus, commented that he’s seen a lot of improvement in the past 5 years. The conclusion is the same as in any place: things have improved in recent years, but there’s always work to do.

Epilogue

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