Matthew Shepard’s Legacy Is Not Celebrated By All

The Laramie Project Play Interrupted by Hecklers

On October 8th, 125 people attended The Laramie Project based on the 1978 murder of gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard at the Meek Auditorium at “Ole Miss” (University of Mississippi). To commemorate the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s death and tying it in with October as anti-bullying month, schools around the country were performing this play.

Hecklers Disrupt Play

According to the play’s director and theatre faculty member Rory Ledbetter, some audience members use derogatory slurs like “fag” and heckled both cast members and characters they were portraying for their body types and sexual identities. It was reported that twenty football players from Ole Miss disrupted the performance as did other attendees, using catcalls, giggling, inappropriate coughing, and burping.

These rude outbursts began during the first act and escalated into the second act.
Said gay Junior Theatre Major Garrison Gibbons: “ I played a gay character in the show and to be ridiculed like that was something that really made me realize that some people at Ole Miss and in Mississippi still can’t accept who I am.”

Punishment for Team

When the Athletic Department got word of the incident, it forced players to sign a letter of apology and deliver it to the cast after the show. According to USA Today,
the University has referred the incident to committees that handle bias and LGBT discrimination on campus. The students’ disciplinary action could range from a public apology to expulsion.

Judy Shepard, mother of slain Matthew Shepard and President of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, had this to say about the incident: “ using hate-filled words to interrupt a play about anti-gay hate is a sad irony.”

No Reverence From Christian Conservative Groups For Shepard

Sandy Rios, talk show host, last week told a group of Christian Conservatives in Washington, including the American Family Association, that Shepard should not be revered. The Fox News contributor does not like society’s acceptance of LGBT people in general and the depiction of certain anti-gay organizations as hate groups.

Rios cites award-winning journalist Stephen Jimenez’s reporting on Matthew Shepard’s case, calling Shepard’s murder “a complete fraud.” Jimenez, the author of the recently-released The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, like Rios, believes that Shepard was a drug addict and dealer and that his murder was the result of “a drug deal gone bad.” They believe that Shepard was sexually involved with one of his killers, Aaron McKinney. (Two men have confessed guilt in Shepard’s murder).

Rios believes that the crime was not hate-motivated against gays. “A fairy tale has been built around Shepard’s death,” she said.

At the gathering, Rios read a letter from civil rights groups, including the Southern
Poverty Law Center and People For The American Way, which urged Republican officials to skip the Values Voter Summit. Rios used the letter as proof to her audience that “it is a dangerous time to be a Christian Conservative in America.”

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