School Cancels Play Based on Slain Gay Student

A local high school's decision to cancel a play based on murdered gay college student Matthew Shepard has caused controversy.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP File

    Students, parents and alumni at a Mercer County school are coming together to oppose a controversial cancellation of a well-known play.

    Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville originally planned “The Laramie Project” as the spring production. School administrators canceled the play however amid what they claim was pressure from parents, according to the Times of Trenton.

    The play, created by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project, debuted back in 2000. It focuses on the 1998 murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard . Shepard was a gay University of Wyoming student. Police claim he was killed by two men because of his sexuality and his murder was deemed a hate crime.

    When word spread that the school would perform the play, school administrators say parents were worried about the subject matter and deemed it inappropriate for high school students. Pressure from parents led to the school canceling the show back on March 20. The Times reports the 32 cast members were informed of the cancellation only days after rehearsals began.

    Opponents of the cancellation formed a facebook group in which they took a strong stance against the decision. Huffington Post writer and Notre Dame alum Bill Augustin also wrote a letter to the president and principal of Notre Dame urging them to rethink their decision:

    I understand that as a Catholic school, you're under no responsibility to teach about or support homosexuality, but as educators, it would be a disservice to simply ignore the fact that there are gay and lesbian students and faculty members there already. They are good people who will do great things in their lives.

    It saddens me to think that my Alma mater would allow a few ill-informed parents to bully them into derailing the teaching of some very valuable lessons through art, not to mention deny students the joy of performing in something they know in their heart is important and will have a lasting effect on their lives.

    I know that this must be a difficult position to be in, both politically and personally, but I hope you are able to take the time to examine what is in your hearts and in the end make the tough decision to allow this conversation to be had.

    The Matthew Shepard Foundation also released the following response to the cancellation on their website:

    Many who wrote to the school’s administration opposing the cancellation of the play received a response that read in part, “… We are proud of our students, and with the help of God, we will continue to find less controversial ways to ask them to address hatred and intolerance as a duty of their faith wherever they might encounter it.”

    It is difficult to understand why discussing the damage done by murdering someone because they are different is controversial. The message inherent in that statement is worrisome, and one of the reasons that it is so important that The Laramie Project exists.

    Dealing with hatred cannot be made convenient; it should not be made palatable. It is an ugly, deadly reality in our society today and confronting it head-on is to be commended and applauded.  We do agree that Notre Dame High School has every right to be proud of its students. They have expressed their concerns in respectful, peaceful, and eloquent ways. A Facebook group of students, alumni, parents, and others is, at this writing, approaching a thousand strong, and one has only to read the postings to understand what an extraordinary group they are. We only hope that those with the power to do so will recognize that, and allow them to make the changes they want to the world by asking the questions posed by The Laramie Project.

    No word yet on whether the school will change its decision. For now, the school has not yet announced what the new spring production will be.