The war fought over gays
Ever since a hate crime happened in the city of Wyoming, which led to the brutal murder of a gay named Mathew Shepard because of his sexual orientation the media has escalated the issue of prejudice underlying the staunch cultural beliefs of the United States at large.
Research and interviews were conducted on the different parts of Laramie, Wyoming as to what people think about homosexuality which led to the creation of the Laramie project directed by Moises Kaufman with his members of the Tectonic Theater project. The play is about the harsh effects of hate crime on individuals and Kaufman team’s motive was to capture the emotions and reactions of the Laramie residents who were close minded and not exposed to homosexuality. The crime has certainly redefined the cultural beliefs of the people.
On October 1998, Mathew Shepard, a student of the University of Wyoming was taken from a bar by two local students Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson in a car, robbed him, tied to a fence of a remote country lane, pistol whipped, and left to die. He He was spotted 18 hours later by a traveler who could hardly figure him out to be human and took him to hospital. He had so many injuries which included a fracture from the back to the front of his skull and so many lacerations that were difficult to operate. On trial, the accused blamed Shepard for making sexual advances and tried to defend him as saying it was a gay panic defense and made it as an excuse for temporal insanity.
The Laramie project features these sequences of events in 3 different acts which attracted nation wide attention and the play was also turned into a HBO movie. Kaufman received two Emmy awards for his work on the project.
The play starts with longtime Laramie residents stating how life used to be in Laramie before the murder, but the general attitude of the people is “live and let live”.
The next scene shifts to a character named Doc O Conor, a friend of Shepard who says that Shepard was not the only gay in town but many who don’t publicly announce it. The scene shifts to a church minister who says that bible does not condone homosexuality. The last sections of the play shows how they find Shepard beat him and leave him to die.
The audience gets to see how the media and the people react after the news of Shepard. There are expressions of fear, anger, shock and disgust. The scene shifts to a doctor who has treated him and fears of having contracted AIDS after having found Shepard to be HIV positive. She is relieved to find out that she tested negative afterwards.
A funeral is arranged in a catholic church but it is not attended by father Fred Phelps who views homosexuality to be wrong. This triggers reactions among the liberal group, then there is a jury scene in which the accused are found guilty of felony murder and get death sentence but Shepard’s father asks the jury that they be given life in prison. The play ends leaving a number of questions unanswered to the viewers for self thought and soul searching.
Good coming out of evil
This incident had occurred at a time when there was no bill in the legislation that included such hate crime, but soon in 1999,’The Mathew Shepard act’ which is the local law enforcement hate crimes prevention act was passed as the crime cascaded serious effects on the community.
The Mathew Shepard foundation was also formed by Mathew’s parents in honor of their son. The foundation aims at providing the youth with special programs in education which would replace hate with understanding, and to promote acceptance and compassion for the gays.
Anti gay picketing
The other significant effect was the rise of Westbro Baptist Church, a hate group formed against homosexuals was founded by Fred Phelps preaching homosexuality to be wrong and blaming them for the spread of AIDS epidemic. They also perceived Mathew’s death as their intolerance towards homosexuality in U.S.
Theme of the Laramie project
Though the Laramie project is not about the incident but about the people’s reactions to the incident, the play strongly lays emphasis on the need for the legislation such as special laws or reinforcing gay rights that could change the mindset of the people against such acts of prejudice. The play acts as an eye opener for the viewers as such crimes affect all of us in a small way.
“Gay politics is more complicated than ever right now because what seems like an irresistible force of cultural change is meeting an immovable object of political resistance” (Time magazine, October 26, 1998).
Ethical and political issues of gay rights and gay marriage
As in a new TIME/CNN poll 68% thought homosexual relations as acceptable but 48% thought they were morally wrong.
Conservative Americans oppose gay marriage and consider it as a social evil but they have their own arguments to support with as they feel that the growing acceptance of homosexuality is a direct threat to the domination of their traditional Christian norms for sexuality. They believe that homosexuality is a choice or as a result of one’s upbringing or the set up of an unruly environment and condemn that choice of living as an evil temptation. They blame the gay rights and argue that children of today have more control over their parents and influences in their early years play a role in determining their choice of living.
Newer scientific research focuses on the biological causes for homosexuality which changed the mindsets of people and the media treatment of homosexuality.
For instance findings that a gay man’s identical twin is far more likely than his fraternal twin brother to be gay (Bailey and Pillard, 1991) and that the marker on the X chromosome is associated with male sexuality.
A sector of Americans who consider themselves as Liberals are more willing to accept that homosexuality is something one is born with .They are those who have greater exposure and respect for science. This adoption would have been faster for better educated, open minded people and for the youth who have minimum knowledge of ancient theories.
As of today there are more open gay men and women in America than in any other country and more and more Americans are getting acquainted with their own gay friends,especially
on the north east and north west parts of America where people are considered as liberals and there is hardly any discrimination over gays.
The other group known as Conservative Americans believes that only the less religious people accept the biological causes of homosexuality and support the gays who fall a prey to the temptation. Such religious and political conservatives are more likely to hear speeches that denounce homosexuality and are more resistant to scientific research than culture. They are more likely to think that sodomy laws can discourage some people from homosexual conduct. For them religion is the strongest predictor of rejecting innateness of homosexuals born that way.
It is obvious that those who believe homosexuality to be innate support and accept gay rights. For those who believe homosexuality is a choice at hand their religion matters more.
Though we can find gays living in big mansions, drive luxury cars, marry wherein states have legalized same sex marriages and even have babies through surrogacy methods but still in reality hatred and prejudice continue to prevail even in a nation that boasts of being a land of freedom and opportunities. There are parts of the country, Deep South where gays are being discriminated and viewed with a difference as second class citizens especially among the Conservative Americans. There are comments from the gay community who express fear of their own lives. And although there are various supporting agencies, the gay community will never be able to obtain complete acceptance though they may achieve equal civil rights.
Nonetheless we should all strive to take a global stand against hatred and violence towards homosexuals foreseeing that homosexuality is neither right nor wrong but a nature of sexuality or as a fact of biology rather than viewing it as an issue of sexual preference.
Let us believe and hope that education would create awareness and would serve as a powerful tool for ending hatred against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. If there is one thing to be learned from the century long struggle for gay rights in the United States it’s that any progress in would require significant patience. It is an obligation upon all of us to make sure that no person regardless of their sexual orientation is denied equality that United States has long stood for its liberty and justice for all.
1. Moises Kaufman.” The Laramie project.” n .p. n .d. PDF file. Web 14 May 2010.
2. “Does believing homosexuality is innate increase support for gay rights” allbusiness.com, Lewis, Gregory B. Nov 1, 2009, Web.15 May 2010.
3. Bailey, J. Michael and Richard C. Pillard. ” A genetic study of male sexual orientation”Arch.Gen.Psychiatry.48:1089-96.