On the Road With Laramie
BY Advocate Contributors
January 18 2011 3:50 PM ET
State College, Pa, is the next stop on our tour. Home to Penn State University, it’s a tiny town in the middle of an otherwise sparsely populated agricultural region of its state. Its economy’s health is largely reliant on the university. The transient student body makes up a large part of its population. The grounded energy of its agricultural roots does not mix easily with the quixotic energy of the university.
In just one day, I have detected a hint of tension between campus and town. Exchange the Blue Ridge Mountains for the Snowy Range, the rolling hills of Pennsylvania for the high plains of Wyoming, and this could be Laramie. State College is certainly a town where you could find a local haunt like Laramie’s Fireside Bar, where town and gown were known to mix and where Matthew Shepard, on October 6, 1998, met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. who kidnapped him, drove him to the outskirts of town, tied him to a fence, and beat him to death.
Matthew, it seems, felt safe in this bar and in Laramie. But he wasn’t safe. And this is the latest issue that is haunting me as we perform the play on the road and we read the news of more and more gay suicides in our schools. Clearly many of our gay youth are suffering at the hands of homophobic peers to the point where they take their own lives. On the other hand, some environments seem to be improving. Some of the places we go, it seems that gay kids are feeling safer. So that’s the big issue for me now. The difference between feeling safe and being safe.