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I am going to preface this article with a trigger warning. This article contains talk of hate crimes, assault, strong opinion, and more. If you wish to continue, you may…

On Friday night, Susquehanna University’s theater department put on a production of The Laramie Project. The play describes how Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson viciously attacked and left Matthew Shepard (a gay Laramie resident) for dead.

The play itself was very well produced, and since there are limitations on in-person viewings of shows, it was held via Zoom. I give major shoutouts to all who were involved in making that happen. What I would really like to talk about though is this story in general and how we can use this case to help better educate ourselves on the topic of hate crimes.

Matthew Shepard and countless others of the LGBTQ+ community, along with those of different races, religions, classes, etc. are still hated upon to this day. The hate crime that took place against Matthew happened in 1998, and it is sad to think that we can date such heinous acts to our not-so-distant past. Not only that, Matthew certainly wasn’t the first gay man to be attacked due to his sexuality and sadly, wouldn’t be the last.

For those who are unaware, Laramie is a small town in Wyoming, and though it seems way out of reach from Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania where I sit writing this, the towns aren’t much different. Small, not much diversity, and definitely vocal on their political and religious ideologies, which is totally fine, freedom of speech and all of that. I am totally here for it.

What I’m not here for though is the use of homophobic and racial slurs that were tossed around Laramie in 1998 and are still thrown around in 2021. If you’re in any way shocked by this fact and thinking “wow she’s really coming for people’s throat in this one,” then you’d be right. What I witnessed in that play was a perfect display of hate against someone who was just trying to be themselves and enjoy a night out. Matthew did not ask to die at the hands of two people who felt that the world would be a cleaner place without him; he certainly did not ask to be left tied to a fence, gasping for air all alone in the Wyoming wilderness.

The only thing that may have given light to this situation was some form of legislation that outlawed hate crimes and things of that nature. But who here would like to guess how many steps have been taken in the twenty-plus years since this happened to change anything? Any takers? If you guessed zero, you hit the nail on the head. ZERO. Wyoming isn’t the only state that hasn’t completely abolished hate crimes either.

It’s stories like Matthew’s that make me wonder if I could ever choose to have children and let them explore this world if things will be any different. The Laramie Project is one of those stories that made it into the limelight and was able to shed some light on this topic of hate crimes and assault. Not everyone’s story makes it that far though and sadly not everyone makes it out, just like how Matthew didn’t. In the grand scheme of all of this, I hope that we are all able to find peace within ourselves and with each other to just accept the ones around us and enjoy the life we’ve been given. Also, if you get the chance to see The Laramie Project I highly recommend it. It is totally worth the watch.

Junior at Susquehanna University Journalism/Photography President and Campus Correspondent of Her Campus Susqu Class of 2022
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