Friday, September 19, 2008

Laramie, Now

Journal Entry: Moisés Kaufman

September 13.

First full day of interviews. 7 in total.

In the morning talked to a gay man who told me that "Laramie hasn't changed much. But the gay community here has. We are more visible, stronger, closer!"  The murder of Matthew made many people come out and that had a strong community building effect.  Bonds and allegiances were made. For 6 years now they've been doing an AIDS walk and a new GLBTQ organization called Spectrum is doing terrific work in campus. Overall, gay and lesbians are more visible here. That's no small feat.

However legislatively, not a single piece of legislation protecting gays has passed. Nothing at the state level. At the city level, a small reporting requirement ordinance for the police is all that has been allowed to pass.

There's also a great deal of people who are trying to re-write history. Saying it wasn't a hate crime. It was a robbery gone bad. Or it was drugs.

Which is a very hard thing to hear. All anyone has to do is read McKinney's confession.  Or his girlfriend Kirsten's confession.

I find it telling that the fence to which Matthew was tied has been dismantled. The Fireside Bar has been renamed JJ's (although the interior is the same). And we've heard many people say: "we're trying to move on".

It's important to remember that Laramie was very hurt not only by the brutal murder but by the media portrayal of it as a town of "rednecks and hillbillies and cowboys" which of course it's not. What we found so interesting about Laramie is not how different it is from the rest of the country, but how similar.  Ten years ago we heard so many times people cry out against the media portrayal: "We're not like this!". The town's reputation had been tarnished. And there's still the need for many people to "set the record straight".

Several of the interviewees talked about burnout. There's still so much work to do in the state. And too many people who want to "put this behind them".

At night we go to a reception at the university for theater students who are performing in new plays. They are all in their late teens early twenties  and so full of life and joy. It's good to be with them. And I think of Matthew.


relationalworld said...

Dear Moises,
Thank you for your work and for holding us in Wyoming to a higher standard and expectation of change. As a minority woman who is a Wyoming native, my life's work in community health/mental health and education is committed to promoting this change in our state. Recently, I stepped outside on one of the first truly cold September nights in Laramie, and, as I have done for the past 10 years in the fall, I stopped for a moment and privately allowed my grief and pain about the brutal hate crime that stole Mathew Shepard's life to take hold inside my heart. I think of him tied to that fence, left to die alone on the cold Wyoming prairie and I allow my heartbreak to surface. I will never allow myself to move on and forget. For this reason, my work entails teaming with many other people who are equally committed to change in our state to bring workshops to our schools and communities that educate about the traumatic violence, bullying, hatred, and discrimination that GLBTQ students face. We work hard to increase the safety and support for GLBTQ teens in Wyoming schools and communities. Recently, while reflecting on the 10 years since Mathew's life was stolen in such a hateful and brutal manner, I felt the need to listen to Elton John. I found the song on Rhapsody, "American Triangle," that Elton wrote in memory of Mathew. I sat in my home office and cried and cried and cried as I allowed the words of that hauntingly beautiful song touch my soul. My grief and pain about Mathew's death are sometimes as fresh as they were 10 years ago. But as I listened to Elton's song, I felt, simultaneously, a sense of peace. There are so many traumatic losses faced by people in our world of structural racism. The wounds of historical trauma continue to be reopened as structural racism continues to be in the blind of the majority of those who live blindly with privilege. And yet, I felt peace that day, knowing in my own heart that I, and many, many, many others, are working diligently to promote the knowledge and awareness in an organized manner that will, one day, lead to structural changes in our policies and legislation. I have lived in Laramie for 20 of my 40 years as a Wyoming native. I spent many of those years always planning to leave, to be in a place where diversity is embraced, where my children would have the opportunity to grow up amongst open, educated, minds. However, when my children were born over a decade ago, my husband and I bought a home, and began the business of raising a family here. Meanwhile, I also began to try my hand at gardening here. Over the years, I have come to realize a beautiful analogy about Laramie: it is very challenging to grow flourishing, healthy perrenial gardens in this high, dry, windy, cold desert. What I have come to know, though, is that with time and patience and perseverance, once the seeds have been planted, the flowers do begin to return each year. And each year, their roots are stronger, their stems are bolder, their leaves are thicker, and their flowers are bigger and brighter. Now, I would not wish to quit gardening here just because it is a challenge, nor would I choose to leave just because the culture is a challenge. I am happy when I see that my children, too, are flourishing, with wide, open, caring, empathic, thoughtful, wise, kind minds. My husband and I are raising the next generation of Laramie's people, two of whom I know in my heart of hearts will never move on or hide from the truth about the hate that killed Mathew Shepard. The peace I have come to feel inside of my wounded soul is that I, and a team of thoughtful, committed citizens, are working very hard, every day, to change the world in Wyoming. Indeed, this is the only thing that ever has. Thank you, again, for holding us here to a higher standard. I promise you, I will not give up.

make*you*smile said...

Dear Everyone:

My school is proud to be able to perform this show after much fighting with administration. When I first read Laramie Project I immediately thought, "Yes, Laramie is like that. Every town, including mine, is like that." Such a crime could happen anywhere, anytime. This is why we need to perform this show, change legislations, and form groups to prevent hate against all kinds of people. In the end, thank-you for not just writing this play, but starting a change in the world.