This is not the first time I’ve read this. I have seen the film adaptation and I have read this multiple times. There are no surprises in this for me, and yet there I was sitting on the train with tears rolling down my face trying not to make that horrible noise when you can’t breathe, but you have to breathe or you’re going to choke on your tears. I clearly need to read this every few years to remind me of my humanity.
I have vague recollections of Matthew Shepard’s murder and the media circus that ensued in the late ’90s, but I do remember staying up late secretly watching the HBO adaptation (IMDB link) as a Junior/Senior in high school. It was a defining moment as a young man coming to terms with my sexuality. It didn’t really scar me or anything, but it definitely made me realize the “don’t ask, don’t tell” with which my family and most of my town it seemed operated under was just as easily broken as the “live and let live” as that in Wyoming.
I don’t remember interacting with the play again until I was in my final semester and I wanted an easy course so I took an Introduction to LGBT literature and this was required reading, because of its subject matter and its unique style. The play came from a series of over 200 interviews conducted over 18 months by Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project.
All I can think about was how often I teared up and the fact that I made a mess of myself in public. It wasn’t even at the parts you would think it would be (i.e. the actual murder or description of it), it was at the parts when people showed some speck of humanity that you weren’t expecting. For example, one of the guys interviewed in Laramie performed a dialogue from Angels in America to get a college scholarship. When he did this, his parents wouldn’t watch him audition because of their religious beliefs.
The year after Matt was murdered, the University of Wyoming – Laramie decided to stage Angels in America and he knew he was going to audition. His parents again refused to attend because of their beliefs and he stood up to his mother. After she told him that the LGBT lifestyle was a sin she couldn’t condone, he called her out on her hypocrisy by stating that she’d just attended a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in which his character murdered numerous other characters including children. This was a straight man in a very rural city and state breaking the norm and I teared up at this.
This book is even more poignant that it is LGBT pride month in June and since 1998 LGB individuals have gained numerous legal rights, particularly affluent white individuals. But this being said, I purposefully left the T off of LGBT, because of the heinous bathroom bills that are still being force into place and the 12 murders of trans* individuals so far in 2017 (Human Rights Campaign website). Most—if not all— of these murders were persons of color.
Recommendation: READ. THIS. BOOK. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 20 years. And although stories have come out about Matt that question the somewhat pristine image this book and the immediate press afterward present, this play is still incredibly moving. Read/listen to this piece on All Things Considered (NPR link) to hear about the controversy and The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later. I will need to read the ten years later the next time I read this.