Protestors Provoke Camas High Students; Principal Issues Statement
This afternoon, a few protesters gathered in front of Camas High School to protest the current production of “The Laramie Project” by the school’s drama department. Some students interacted with the protestors, and security was called to the scene.
CHS Principal Liza Sejkora issued the following statement:
This afternoon there were two individuals expressing their religious beliefs, via signs and a bullhorn, across from the Camas High School bus parking area as students were leaving for the day. This event created a commotion and, unfortunately, some strong feelings and expletives were expressed.
The CHS security team, administrators, and the School Resource Officer were on site ensuring the visitors stayed on the public sidewalk away from students. The visitors left after the CHS students departed.
This protest was likely brought to our campus in response to the CHS drama department’s presentation of The Laramie Project—the story of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual student from the University of Wyoming, who was brutally murdered in 1998. To learn more about why we selected The Laramie Project, read Director Sean Kelly’s notes.
We want you to have context about the incident today in case your student(s) have questions.
Director Sean Kelly’s Statement
I have had a difficult time trying to decide what needs to be written about this show. I suppose I need to start with a few assertions that I believe to be true: opposition to prejudice should not be a political issue, but these days it seems to be. Opposition to those who would commit violence should not be a political issue, but these days it seems to be. And most importantly, this: we desperately need to start listening to one another.
Empathy is a skill that must be practiced. The best way to practice it, in my opinion, is to listen to the stories of others’ struggles. If we consciously practice empathy while doing so, we begin to discover that we have a lot more in common than we ever imagined. It’s a lot harder to hate someone once you get to know them and what they are up against. Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and murdered because he was gay. His story sparked a national conversation that we are still having today.
When I was a young man, I was harassed and threatened, shunned and whispered about in my hometown. Once, a couple of men in a pickup threw a 32-ounce soda at me as they drove past and yelled “faggot”. They circled the block a few times and shouted obscenities and threatened to assault me. I can’t claim to fully understand the challenges that a member of the LGBTQ community faces because I am not a member of that community, except as an ally. But my experiences as someone who was targeted by hatred based on what other people thought they saw was a revelation. How must it be to fear this every day of one’s life?
When I visited Laramie a few years ago, years after the death of Matthew Shepard, what struck me the most was how much like my hometown it appeared to be. It seemed a place that was idyllic and easy, with a beautiful view. There were places that were rough around the edges, and it seemed in every way like it could be any town in the USA. And that, I suppose, is what troubled me the most. The stories of the people in this play sounded far too familiar.
Hate groups have been reawakened. Violence and harassment have never gone away, but there has been an increase in violence targeted at minorities and LGBTQ people. We feel it everywhere we go: our relationships are strained and uneasy. Everyone is on edge about something. It has been 19 years since Matthew Shepard died, and it seems tensions around this topic are only more strained than ever. But I reassert these things that I hold true:
Opposition to prejudice should not be a political issue.
Opposition to those who would commit violence should not be a political issue.
We desperately need to start listening to one another.
Father Roger Schmitt: “When you are called a fag, and you are called… a dyke, that is the seed of violence.”
“The Laramie Project” continues its performances this Friday at 7 pm, and Saturday at 2 and 7 pm.
To learn more, visit www.chs.camas.wednet.edu
I know how I am voting next time the schools need money. That’ll be a no vote. Let’s stick to MacBeth or even The Addam’s Family in the future, vice political statements. Two years ago it was Cabaret, now this. Here’s what the rest of US High School’s are showing. http://www.playbill.com/article/top-10-most-produced-high-school-plays-and-musicals-of-20162017-revealed
Are you serious? What scares you about this show? This is a very important story that needs to be told. It is powerful, thought provoking and current. If the production makes one narrow minded, bigoted individual think twice before passing judgement on another, it has done its job! These are issues that our youth are facing everyday. It is the attitude of people like you that is what is wrong with the world today.
True courage is to make the statement that is not spoken. The shows we do are relevant, have some degree of purpose and impact on the world around us. Ten years from now people will not remember The Adam’s Family or Oklahoma. What they will remember is the show that made a bold statement, that promoted discussion and activism within a community. Our community has witnessed change, incredible support. Your tax dollars are changing people’s perspectives, changing communities, removing prejudices. Are you scared? Social and political dialogue is uncomfortable for everyone. But it is only uncomfortable because their is an error, there is an issue that needs to be fixed. You should be proud that theatre, the theatre of your own community, is more than just kids singing and dancing, that we do and will continue to change lives.
Thank you for doing something real!! And for these words:
“Opposition to prejudice should not be a political issue.
Opposition to those who would commit violence should not be a political issue.
We desperately need to start listening to one another.”
I support the students. Good job kids.
“Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and murdered because he was gay. His story sparked a national conversation that we are still having today.”
So, here’s the thing. The whole story that Matthew Shepard’s murder was a hate crime has been pretty thoroughly refuted. This information was been out there since 2013. An award-winning gay journalist, Stephen Jimenez, wrote a extensively researched book on it called The Book of Matt. Shepard was brutally murdered. Yes, Shepard was gay, and he was also involved in methamphetamine use and dealing. He knew his killer(s), had dealt drugs with him and had likely been a sex partner of his. He was targeted by someone who had been on a five-day meth binge because the killer believed Shepard had access to a large amount of drugs (and they money it would yield) which had arrived in Laramie from Denver. It seems there was a lot of bad police work and a runaway narrative that animated all coverage of this, with seemingly no interest in getting to the truth. You can find extensive articles in The Nation, The Guardian UK, The Advocate, and The Daily Beast. It may be tough reading, but it is very enlightening. So, in actuality, I fear that a production of The Laramie Project is not current, courageous, or even truthful today. Rather, it is manipulative and dishonest. I cannot know if the director of the production is ignorant of the true facts of the case or if he has chosen to stage this in spite of such knowledge. Regardless, the actors involved in the production, along with our community at large, deserve to have these facts added to the conversation.
This is to take nothing away from the efforts of the students in the production. I’m sure they are giving their hearts to this. And I’m willing to give the director the benefit of the doubt. The myths surrounding this murder are enduring and pernicious.
Empathy is important to practice, but it is not sufficient. Moral authenticity requires both truth and empathy.
“The view was that homophobic rednecks walked into a bar and saw an obviously gay man with money and targeted him and beat him to death for that reason,” says Jimenez. “But that isn’t what happened. Nothing in this book takes away from the iniquity and brutality of the crime or the culpability of his murderers, but we owe Matthew and other young men like him the truth. Aaron and Matthew had a friendship. They’d been involved sexually, they bought and sold drugs from each other. That complicates the original story of two strangers walking into a bar and targeting Matthew – someone they did not know – because he was gay.”
-Stephen Jimenez in The Guardian 10/26/14
What’s the deal? Are you guys not going to publish this comment above?