By Brittany Urick ’10
On Oct. 12, a cast featuring Princeton students staged a reading of “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later,” a play that assesses the impact of Matthew Shepard’s murder on the Wyoming community that the crime made famous.
Eleven years ago, Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die by two fellow University of Wyoming students who targeted him because he was gay. The performance provided a lens through which to examine a current issue: the debate in Congress over legislation that would broaden the definition of violent federal hate crimes to include those committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The play is a compilation of interviews conducted by members of the Tectonic Theater Project when they revisited Laramie a decade after Shepard’s murder. The work raises questions about memory and what it means to move on from tragedy.
The play suggests that Shepard’s death has led to positive change on many levels in Wyoming. Conversation about homosexuality is no longer taboo in Laramie, and many individuals inspired by Shepard’s legacy have come out. The University of Wyoming recently passed a motion to provide domestic-partner benefits for faculty members, and the state legislature struck down a bill that would define marriage explicitly as the union between a man and a woman.
Some people in Laramie continue to deny that Shepard’s murder was a hate crime. (A documentary by 20/20 released in 2004 framed the crime as a product of drugs and robbery.) The play shows how differing views of the crime continue to divide Laramie and reinforces the relevance of issues concerning sexuality and gender not only for this small community, but for rest of the country as well.