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Texas High School Sparks Backlash After Canceling Production Of Play About Matthew Shepard

Timber Creek High School officials sparked outrage after canceling a production of 'The Laramie Project,' a play about the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming.

Mourners at a candlelight vigil for Matthew Shepard in 1998
Steve Liss/Getty Images

A Texas high school is under fire for canceling a production of The Laramie Project, a play about the reaction to the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, was 21 when he was brutally tortured and beaten as part of a hate crime and left for dead outside of the city of Laramie on the night of October 6, 1998.

The play by Moisés Kaufman debuted in Denver in 2000 followed by a run in New York City and Wyoming. Since then, it's been performed in high schools, colleges and community theaters across the country as a method to spread awareness about the struggles facing LGBTQ+ youth and to teach tolerance and acceptance.

However, it seems the Keller Independent School District board was not ready to share the play's message with the community.

Located in Fort Worth and served by the Keller Independent School District, Timber Creek High School initially planned for The Laramie Project to have a spring opening, but the show was suddenly canceled without explanation.

The Keller community was outraged by the decision.

They believed the cancellation of the production was due to the play's gay theme based on the school board's history of campaigning for transphobic policies, including one preventing the use of preferred pronouns for transgender students and another barring trans students from using bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

You can watch a news report about the cancelation below.

Texas school district cancels high school production of 'The Laramie Project'

A petition for the Keller Independent School District to reverse its decision was launched on February 24.

The petition demands that the district work “towards creating awareness about [LGBTQ+] issues rather than shying away from them” and urged them to reconsider allowing Timber Creek High to move forward with production of the play.

According to Pink News, the petition's organizer, Dee, claimed that district superintendent Tracy Johnson didn't bother to read The Laramie Project before approving the decision to pull the plug.

Johnson defended himself in an email that was shared on social media.

He said:

“For me, to read the script in an attempt to change my mind isn’t necessary because it was never about the subject matter.”

Dee told the media outlet:

“Honestly even if they don’t reinstate the play, our biggest hope is that something like this doesn’t happen again."
“With all of the press attention they’re getting, it can’t possibly be putting the school in a positive light."
"We all just want the school board to read scripts before denying them as well as release all of the reasons why they denied this play and any future productions."

Dee continued:

"I’m honestly very disappointed in how the school district has reacted to everything."
"They repeatedly refuse to comment on the situation, despite the petition now having over 3,000 signatures."
“I think that’s why we’re so angry. It shows a severe lack of accountability as well as a lack of conflict resolution skills on their end, which is important when you’re in a seat of power.”

Social media users related to the frustration of the news.

A spokesperson for the Keller Independent School District told the Daily Beast that The Laramie Project will likely be replaced by a production of Beauty and the Beast or White Christmas.

Shepard's mother, Judy, who has been advocating for LGBTQ+ rights in the years following her son's death, was disheartened upon hearing news of the play's cancellation by the school.

She said:

"My heart is broken when people still refuse to see how important this work is."