Matthew Shepard was a petite young man with good taste in shoes and a passion for human rights. He was a beloved son, friend, and student, and he was also gay. It’s been fifteen years since two young men tied Matthew Shepard to a fence like a hog and bludgeoned him with their fists and pistols just outside the town of Laramie, Wyoming. A lone biker found him the next day, first mistaking him for a gory scarecrow. Upon further examination, the biker found the figure to be human, and emergency team of doctors and policemen rushed him to emergency care. On October 12, 1998, Matthew Shepard died. His death sparked worldwide protests for LGBTQ awareness and protection, specifically under hate crime laws. Today, his attackers continue their lifelong prison sentences. A group of New York actors travelled to Laramie after the attack to interview the townspeople. They wanted to know Laramie’s opinions of the murder and the issues behind it, and incorporated their responses in the now world famous play, “The Laramie Project.”
Last Thursday, ten GSA members filed into a school bus for an evening with Milton Academy’s GASP (Gay and Straight People) members to meet and talk with two of the original actors of the Laramie Project. Headed by faculty members Mario Flores and Nicole Sintetos, the Dublin School’s Gay-Straight Alliance, or, “GSA,” has proudly reached its third year. It is open to all, and works to promote a safe and comfortable campus culture for LGBTQ people. Its participants include lesbian, gay, bisexual, straight, and questioning people who meet around once every other week to eat together. Anna Sigel (’14) and Max Clary (’14) serve as co-captains.
Milton greeted Dublin warmly, with pizza, soda, and icebreaker games that became less uncomfortable as the minutes passed. After a particularly intense game of “Wa” (a circle and speed activity that raises everyone’s anxiety level past the point of self-consciousness), students, still laughing, arranged the furniture around a large projection screen. For the next hour and a half, they watched “The Laramie Project’s” film adaptation in contemplative silence.
Well, mostly silence. There was some laughter, which is an impressive response for a script that documents extreme hate and tragedy. And then there was fidgeting, as the screen flashed with images of homophobic protesters holding signs. The movie ended, and after a contemplative and suspended quiet, the students put the room back in order.
The heavy air about the room lightened as Milton students escorted Dubliners to a beautiful family-style dinner. They returned to the same room and still more food for a ‘Q and A’ panel with the two actors. It grew into more of a discussion as people opened up.
“What do you think of people who say that they’re okay with gay people, as long as they don’t flaunt it?”
Asked another, “How long do you think our society will continue to hate?”
Said one of the actors, “How long do you think?”
By eight o’clock, Dubliners reluctantly poured back into their bus, the response, “How long do you think?” ringing in their ears, and rainbow ally bracelets gracing their wrists.
Says Mario Flores, “I hate the word “tolerance.” We can’t just tolerate people. We have to welcome them.”
The GSA plans to see Milton’s production of “The Laramie Project” in two months.