The Laramie Project is a play about centered around the reaction of the townspeople of Laramie, Wyoming to the beating and murder of Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming gay youth. During a performance of the play at University of Mississippi in early October 2013, the actors were heckled and called names. Garrison Gibbons, who was part of the performance gives us an inside sense of what that was like:
The hecklers in the audience made rude and threatening remarks about multiple cast members, and not just about sexual orientation. Weight, gender, religion, race – nothing was off-limits to them. Backstage, some of us were crying, some were angry. Still, as a cast we pulled ourselves together and finished the show. The story was told, and I believe it started to sink in with us just how vital and relevant this story truly is.
That night, Oct. 1, I was reminded of what it has been like to grow up gay in this country, especially in the South, where I have been called “fag” or “queer” since the sixth grade. The sad truth is that this type of hate speech has been so much a part of my life that I had almost forgotten how much it hurts. It kept me in the closet until I was 18, because I didn’t want to be “bad” or “wrong.” I didn’t want to be gay. Looking back, that’s devastating, because that’s simply a part of who I am.
What is most astounding about this incident is the play is meant to raise awareness of hostility against gay people. Here the audience members were doing the very thing that the play was trying to advocate against. Further saddening is the lack of respect they showed for the performance extends to a lack of respect for those within their group. They probably had someone who was feeling the same kind of things that Mr. Gibbons expresses in his second paragraph. Though they may have been participating in the heckling, I am pretty confident that the group had at least one, and probably more, people who were gay within it.
The next time this group or anyone goes to make fun of or heckle someone who is gay amongst who they think are like-minded peers, they should take a minute to think that they could also very well be making fun of or heckling someone in their very group.