The Laramie Project

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The Laramie Project

The Laramie Project focuses on Laramie, WY, a small town that one fall night in 1998 was destined to become infamous for the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student who was found tied to a fence after being brutally beaten and tortured by two men.

The film portrays the actual experiences, thoughts, and feelings of Laramie community members, drawn from interviews which Moises Kaufman, the original playwright and director fo the film, crafted into this moving documentary. Kaufman spent several weeks living and speaking with residents of Laramie, experiencing first-hand the stories of those who found that their community was forever changed.

After his attackers lured Shepherd from the Fireside Lounge, they beat and robbed him, tying Shepherd to a fence and leaving him to die. By all accounts, Shepherd was in excruciating pain after a long night of suffering and fell into a coma before he was discovered some 18 hours later. He was found by a young man riding his bicycle, and according to newspaper accounts the lone bicyclist could not accept that what he was looking at was a human being. He thought he was viewing a Halloween effigy, a kind of grotesquely rigged-up scarecrow. To his horror, he found that indeed he was looking at the mangled and tortured body of what was once Mathew Shepard.

According to interviews with citizens of Laramie, the emergency room doctor who viewed the body of Mr. Shepard could not grasp the thought that the brutality pounded out on the body before him was done by fellow human beings. Indeed, the violence done to Mr. Shepard was carried out by peers his own age.

The horror and reality of homophobia and the brutal expression of hatred by young members of the community riveted not only those close to Mr. Shepard, and the town of Laramie, but the entire nation. Laramie was seen as “our town” USA, where anti-gay mentality at its most brutal was released into the open air market for everyone to discuss.

American’s had to realize the truth about hatred, and about the power it can wield when not addressed at its core. Heterosexual homophobia was now out in the open, and while small-town America was seen to embody brutality against homosexuals, America writ-large had to accept the responsibility to transform such hate crimes into fertile ground for enlightened knowledge about human diversity.

The Laramie Project is a must see film. Like race and racism, heterosexual homophobia hides behind many masks of hypocrisy, patriarchy, fear, and power. Looking behind the masks we don’t want to acknowledge is essential, and perhaps the only avenue to address our narrow and ignorant perceptions about gender, biology, and diversity. The film will move you, and it will open doors that can lead to transforming us into better human beings.

Marcia Mikulak

Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology

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