Laramie Project brings bullying discussion to campus

November 12, 2010

Anjali Tsui for the Daily Pennsylvanian

Friday, November 12, 2010 at 2:12 am

Organizers of the Laramie Residency at Penn hope the presentations will spark discussions about bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus.

This weekend, The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later will be staged at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

The play, which is based on the murder of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay University of Wyoming student, will be performed by the Tectonic Theater Project.

According to Platt Student Performing Arts House Director Ty Furman, the staging of Laramie at Penn is “timely” given the recent high-profile suicides among LGBT youth.

“These teen suicides help us to recognize that there is still a challenge for us to overcome,” said Furman, adding that bullying of LGBT students “is not a dead issue.”

There are parallels between the death of Matthew Shepard and the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who committed suicide after his roommate secretly filmed his sexual encounter and streamed it live on the internet, according to LGBT Center Director Bob Schoenberg.

However, he added that the deaths of Shepard and Clementi “should not take away from all of the other people who have been bullied, harassed or murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

This October marked the 12th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.

“Most of our students were five, six or seven years old when Matthew Shepard was killed,” Furman said. “I don’t think it’s part of their cultural knowledge, and we would like it to be.”

Furman expressed concern that because Penn offers an excellent environment for LGBT students there is not enough dialogue about gay bullying on campus, which he described as a “politically divisive issue.”

The Westboro Baptist Church — an anti-gay, anti-Semitic, Christian group — announced on its website that it plans to picket in protest of Laramie on Saturday afternoon.

According to the church’s website,, “WBC engages in daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle.”

“I would like students to spend a more productive hour inside the theater watching the show rather than confronting the protestors,” Wharton and Engineering junior and Lambda Alliance Chairman Tyler Ernst said. “It’s the best possible message to send because […] you’re choosing to go out to learn about a very important topic.”