Through the use of actual interviews and news reports based on the tragedy of Matthew Shepard’s death, ‘The Laramie Project’ written by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project explores the limits and the meaning of homophobia. By using multiple characters that reflect the population of Laramie, Kaufman works to create a sense of community in order to explore how the people of this Wyoming town view homosexuality as a whole. Kaufman’s play investigates the identity of a provincial town and what it means to be an outsider in Laramie, and how in times of calamity the public often unites to cast its own interlopers such as Mckinney and Henderson. During several moments of the play, individuals express their feelings of alarm that two residents of their town could commit such a crime, proving that hate is alive even in such quaint areas. By way of consultations with the people of Laramie and broadcasts involving the demise of Shepard, Kaufman not only exposes the cruel reality of homophobia but reveals that prejudice is not just an issue in rustic areas, but an active and often overlooked problem in America.
Although Kaufman’s work focuses on Laramie, it extends beyond the case of Shepard to uncover the harsh certainty that a number of people are ignorant in reference to homosexuality. For example, in the play a young man speaks about performing a scene from ‘Angels in America’; he states, “So I tell my parents, so they can see me in the competition. They brought me in the room and they sat me down and they said that they wouldn’t come to see me if I did that scene…You know, because they believe it’s wrong, because homosexuality is wrong.” Although this man’s statement does not directly relate to Shepard, it shows how deep-seated homophobia can be. His own family remained absent from a competition which he was successful in just because they do not agree with homosexuality. This act of ignorance by this young man’s parents affirms that intolerance proves to be more valuable than supporting one’s family in this case.
Kaufman continues to divulge the ignorance of the people of Laramie when an older man claims, “I think the gay community is taking this as an advantage: ‘This is a good time for us to exploit this.’ They made it sound like it was ten murders instead of one.” By disclosing his opinion, this man is basically claiming that one human life that was taken because of a hate crime is not worthy enough to receive such awareness. What this man is failing to realize is that Shepard was killed primarily because he was a homosexual, he was murdered because of who he was, because of how he was born. This man is unsuccessful in comprehending that in a place such as the United States, notably recognized as the land of the free, a crime as such should receive as much attention as possible because everyone should be able to live freely despite their lifestyle. This murder is not just a murder, it is a barbaric crime against human rights.
Discrimination is once again an issue when a man claims, “It’s preached in schools that being gay is okay. If my kids asked me, I’d set them down and I’d tell them: ‘This is what gay people do. This is what animals do, okay?’ I’d tell them, ‘This is the life. This is the lifestyle. This is what they do.’ And I’d say, ‘This is why I believe it’s wrong.’” The unawareness of this man’s declaration is blatant; he is comparing homosexuals to animals, ultimately reducing them to a point where they do not have the same rights as other citizens of the United States. This man is implying that Matthew Shepard does not deserve justice because he degrades homosexuals to a position in which they are unworthy of civic rights.
These statements are apparent examples of homophobia; however, Kaufman also explores a different type of ignorance, a more discreet kind of prejudice. For example, a young man in the play claims, “My parents brought me up Catholic. I was brought up to love the sinner, hate the sin. Love the person for who they are but condemn them for what they do. Condemn the lifestyle.” Though this young man’s assertion may not seem as hostile as the other examples provided, it still displays his unawareness. He instantly links homosexuality to sin, sin being a condemnable act, essentially emphasizing that homosexuality is something that should be punished. By saying one should “love the sin but hate the sinner,” this man is concluding that one can accept someone but cannot accept how they live which is contradictory.
Another man makes a similar claim by saying, “I would have to say now I don’t agree with it. I don’t agree, and maybe that’s just because I couldn’t do it but I don’t hate them, I won’t persecute them. I’m not going to let this get in between me and the other person at all or in between you and I. Not at all.” Once again, this instance may not seem as aggressive as the others but somehow it is even more ignorant. Claiming that one can get along with another without tolerating his or her way of life makes no sense; getting along with another person includes recognizing his or her lifestyle. Just because one does not express hate towards a group, does not mean that one is not prejudice or discriminatory.
‘The Laramie Project’ written by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, uses the town of Laramie, Wyoming as a microcosmic example of homophobia within the United States. Through several interviews with the people of Laramie, Kaufman proves that homophobia is an issue that people persist to be oblivious to, and it is an offense that is unfortunately still thriving.