In fall 2010, gay teen suicides sparked national debate over whether these injustices should be considered hate crimes.
However, this is not the first time anti-gay hate crimes have received national press.
On Oct. 7, 1998, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming named Matthew Shepard was beaten to death by Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney in the small town of Laramie, Wyo.
Having met Henderson and McKinney at a local bar, Shepard was offered a ride home.
What seemed at first to be a chivalrous act, the favor later turned into a horrible nightmare after the two men learned of Shepard’s homosexuality.
Shepard was robbed, pistol-whipped and tortured, tied to a fencepost and left to die.
Shepard fought for his life for almost an entire day until he was discovered by a cyclist and sent to the hospital, but his injuries were too severe.
Shepard passed away on Oct. 12, 1998, just five days after the malicious attack.
To help put a stop to these violent acts, Moisés Kaufman and other members of the Tectonic Theater Project in New York City traveled to Laramie only a few weeks after Shepard’s death to begin working on the play titled “The Laramie Project.” The play is comprised of the dialogues between Tectonic and the people of Laramie through over 200 interviews that were conducted during their visit.
According to Tectonics’s webpage, www.tectonictheaterproject.org, the play is a chronicle of the life of the town of Laramie in the year after the murder.
“The Laramie Project,” which has been adapted into a full-length film by the same name, has been screened all over the country and was recently screened at a local church.
Last Tuesday from 7-9 p.m., high school youth at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church of Kansas City along with members of the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of Kansas City (LGCCKC) hosted a benefit screening of Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project.” These monthly screenings are open to the public and, according to the All Souls webpage, www.allsoulskc.org, are intended to emphasize quality films with social justice themes that rarely make it to conventional movie theaters.
“We hope to raise awareness in the KC community about the intolerance that youth can still face,” Scott England, a member of the All Souls Church, said.
“We also hope to raise awareness in the larger KC community about Unitarian Universalism as a religious option/spiritual community for [LGBT] folks.”
Although admission was free, donations were asked to benefit The Trevor Project, which, according to the not-for-profit organization’s webpage, www.thetrevorproject.org, is a national 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth. Donations also went to help fund Passages, the only program in Kansas City dedicated to LGBT and allied youth.
With the widespread popularity of “The Laramie Project” and the inclusion of sexual orientation under anti-hate crime legislation in 2009, there is much to be said for the progression of putting an end to gay-related hate crimes.