A tangible weight lay heavy upon the crowd in the nearly-full Lory Student Center Theater as the lights began to come up after the Sunday night showing of “The Laramie Project,” a film dedicated to the aftermath of the death of Matthew Shepard.
Shepard was a gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who died in a coma in Poudre Valley Hospital after being beaten and tied to a fence near Laramie, Wyo., before he was found 18 hours later. The film left more than a few eyes damp and touched more than a few hearts.
“I’ve seen it several times, and every time it breaks my heart,” said a tearful Julia Johns, the student program coordinator for GLBT Student Services at CSU, who lost her girlfriend Stephanie Semler in April to a drug overdose after Semler fell victim to hate crimes in 2005.
The people in the theater came to the showing for a variety of reasons. Some came out of self-initiative, while an interest in the subject and their peers’ encouragement brought others.
“I want to learn more about [Shepard],” Steph Domenico, a sophomore journalism major, said.
“I’ve already seen the movie once, and I think it’s amazing,” Bonnie Sizer, a student who helped organize the program, said. “It’s an amazing, eye-opening movie.”
“We got Facebook invitations, and we were curious,” sophomore zoology major Joey Angstman said about he and his friend Alex Bocim, who is an open option sophomore.
“I just wanted to watch the movie,” said Jerick Flores, a junior liberal arts major.
Regardless of the reason they came to the program, those in attendance Sunday night agreed that the story told by the film and the subsequent messages need to be told.
“Ten years ago a man named Matthew Shepard died in Poudre Valley Hospital. That’s why we’re here tonight,” said Tom Crews, the sophomore student who put the program together.
Before the program, Crews said he hoped for “a good turnout” and “for people to spread knowledge and understanding.” He got both.
Alex Badham said films like “The Laramie Project” are important because they keep people from forgetting the devastating incident and help keep similar tragedies from occurring.
“I think we need to remember, so it doesn’t happen again,” Badham said.
“A lot of people don’t know what happened, or even who Matthew Shepard is, or that hate crimes are still going on,” Sizer agreed.
Angstman said bringing that knowledge and awareness to the community is the most important element of the film and that awareness helps people to change.
“Awareness,” Angstman said. “You can’t self-improve without self-awareness.”
Despite the positive strides since Shepard’s death that many in the crowd acknowledged, Johns said she felt the film highlighted the progress that still needs to be made.
“It’s been 10 years, and this kind of hate is still happening. I’m pretty sure I’m speaking to the wrong crowd, because everyone here is against this kind of thing,” Johns said in the open-mic session that followed the film. “When is it going to stop?”
The Colorado Anti-Violence Program, an organization dedicated to eliminating violence within Colorado’s GLBT community, documented 118 anti-GLBT hate crimes in Colorado last year, said Kelly Costello, the director of victim services for the COAVP.
Ron Montoya, a Fort Collins resident, said in order to stop hate crimes like the one that happened in Laramie, people have to start educating others.
“Hate doesn’t start when someone gets killed,” Montoya said, “It starts with words.”
Duff Norris, a transgender student, echoed those sentiments.
“So many times it’s easy to disappear and not have to be out and deal with it. Silence kills.”
Staff writer Jim Sojourner can be reached at email@example.com.