Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Shutdown sunrise and Matthew Shepard

October is, among other things, LGBT History Month --- and, on Saturday, the 15th anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death.

Shepard is the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who was beaten, tortured, tied to a fence and left to die outside Laramie overnight on Oct. 6-7, 1998, because he was gay. His clinical death occurred a few days later at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Shepard's death was not an isolated incident in the long history of anti-gay extremism cultivated and enabled by the Christian church and manipulative politicians, merely the one that because of its outrageousness caught the attention of the nation --- and world --- at large.

That attention has allowed Matthew's death to become a teaching tool in the effort to defuse hatred and expose the sources of the irrational fears upon which it is based --- and the tactics of those who might turn those fears to their own advantage.


And this is the week when The Laramie Project, Moises Kaufman's award-winning play about Shepard's death, opens for a three-day run at the Bridge View Center in Ottumwa. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $20, $10 in advance for groups of 10 or more.

Susan Burk, of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, will be on hand Thursday for a talk-back session with the audience.

Remember how this came about? The Laramie Project had been a scheduled production for drama students at Ottumwa High School until administrators became fixated upon it during July and cast it out as unsuitable for family viewing (and by implication, for student production).

That resulted in formation of the independent organization Theater Adventures, which now is staging the play with a cast and crew of 30-some people, many of them Ottumwa High School students, at Bridge View. It's been a struggle, unhitched from the support structure of the school district.


The Laramie Project, as it has this year in Ottumwa, continues to serve as a lightning rod. A recent production by students at the University of Mississippi, "Old Miss," in Oxford, for example, was disrupted when members of the audience, mostly football team members it seems, heckled the cast, hurling anti-gay slurs.

This is not especially surprising in Mississippi, where Old Miss students garnered national attention during 2012 by yelling racist slurs after President Obama's re-election.

It can seem surprising in Ottumwa and elsewhere in rural Iowa, however, where we like to think of ourselves as at least more polite. But the same old hatreds, fears and efforts to manipulate bubble not far below the surface here, too. So it really isn't.


This also is sunrise on another day of government shutdown, engineered by leaders of a Republican party inclusive only in the sense that long-standing efforts to manipulate itself into power have opened it to manipulation in return by all the bottom-feeders it has welcomed and cultivated during the last 50 years or so --- racists, anti-gay extremists, the ignorant, the fearful, those who shore up their own self-esteem by denigrating others.

It may be that those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are less surprised than others by the destructive and divisive circus now in progress in Washington, D.C.

We've dealt with these people all our lives, after all, and continue to do so.

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