Matthew Shepard was a political science major at the University of Wyoming. He enjoyed theater and was learning to speak German and Italian. He had a very close relationship with his only brother Logan.
On the night of Oct. 6, 1998, Shepard was beaten, robbed, and left for dead by two men because he was gay.
Shepard met the two men at a bar and, after a few hours, he agreed to get in one of the assaulter’s truck under the pretense that they were also gay. The men drove Shepard into the countryside where they tied him to a fence and brutally beat him to the point of unconsciousness. Shepard wasn’t found until 18 hours later, covered in his own blood and in a coma. He never woke up. He was 21.
The two men were both given two life sentences for the kidnapping, robbery, and murder of Matthew Shepard.
After his death, the city he lived in, Laramie, Wyoming, had a wide variety of reactions to this hate crime ranging from the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a nonprofit LGBT organization, to people picketing his funeral with signs saying “Matt’s in Hell” and worse.
This December, the Bear Creek drama department will perform “The Laramie Project,” a play that uses actual interviews from townspeople in Laramie to portray the town’s reaction to the murder of a homosexual man. The play takes place in Laramie, Wyoming, and consists of several short scenes showing how the people of Laramie responded to Shepard’s murder.
The play teaches a larger lesson than just gay violence awareness by discussing the impact of hate crimes and the terrible role violence has in discrimination.
Another unusual factor is that the actors rarely use the stage; instead they stay within feet of the audience at all times and eschew any special lighting or technology.
“There are a lot more themes than just LGBTQ or gay acceptance,” co-director Giancarlo Lizarraga, a senior, said. “There are some religious aspects, there are some things about community and what a community does in the event of a tragedy. It’s about how the community responds to [the murder] and what they learn from it.”
Shepard’s murder caused a nationwide surge of both supportive and anti-gay feelings and quickly grew into one of the most famous gay-hate crimes.
After their son was murdered, devastated parents Dennis and Judy Shepard decided to start the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a nonprofit LGBT organization that supports gay rights and seeks to eliminate homophobia.
Furthermore, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act was passed in Wyoming that expanded federal hate crime laws to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability under its terms.
The play is often used as a tool to teach and combat homophobia and other forms of prejudice and has been performed in hundreds of theaters across the country.