March 15, 2012

From the Equality State to a City of Hate: The New History ~ The Laramie Project (Matthew Shepard)

Posted in Book Discussions/Literary Analysis tagged , , , , , , , , , at 10:40 am by

Thank you for giving me the time to discuss my opinion of “The Laramie Project.” I will explain how this play addresses issues that affect everyone, universally.

Starting off, I would like to relay a joke I heard from the comedian Ron White. It went something like this:

I was on the phone with a friend, a major homophobic. The subject of gay men was brought up and Ron asked him, “Do like porno movies?” The guy said hell yeah. Then he asked, “Do you only watch women on women movies?” His friend said, “No, I like to watch a man and a woman make love.” Finally he asked, “So the guy can be small?” His friend replied, “No I want him to have a big, thick…” his friend stopped and thought about what he was saying.

The main question at hand is, “How is the social construction of sexual identity linked to social construction of race?” Sociologists see race as being socially constructed. Race, as it corresponds to the scientific measures of our society is fixed in a sense, to signify the human species as a whole. Consequently, if you think about it, there is only one race, in my opinion, which is…Human. But, in defining race some individuals attach the biological meaning whereas, others view it as a socially constructed perception.

In the play, Mathew is described by Doc O’Connor and Jon Peacock as being a little guy and mousey, “It’s a little guy, about five-two, soakin’ wet, I betcha ninety-seven pounds tops…To the point of being somewhat mousy I’d almost say.” (p.18, 20). Symbolic interactions had been strategically placed, without the intention of the town’s people. Tyson stated, “…characteristics that heterosexist culture stereotypically associates with gay men or lesbians, such as might be evident, for example, in the appearance and behavior of “feminine” male characters or “masculine” female characters.” (p. 340).Shannonremarked, “Shit, he had better clothes than I did. Mathew was a little rich bitch” (p.60). This character had internalized racism (he being a gay man and her being a straight woman) and classified him as a “bad girl.” Being associated with a woman, and not accepting his patriarchal gender role in turn, he had become the “monster.” (Tyson, 2006, p.89). What a sad commentary that he had been categorized as the “other” just as women are seen in today’s society. Regardless of societies views and oppression, Matthew became involved in the gay rights movement and this was to be his in group as Romaine Patterson commented, “And he told me that he had joined the gay and lesbian group on campus, and he said he was enjoying it, you know, he was getting ready for Pride Week and whatnot.” (p.20).

The social construction of sexual identity is represented primarily by symbolic interactionists, a process of describing one’s social location within a changingsocial context. Matthew, a man (anonymous) who had been alone in a bar having a beer as described by Phil Labrie, “The fact that he was at the bar alone without any friends made him that much more vulnerable.” (p.31). As time went on, the social location within the different cultural contexts had changed. When he walked out of the bar, his sexual identity and self image was apparent, a homosexual male. He was not born homosexual or heterosexual rather, he learned through channeled experiences these sexual orientations and this is where he acquired his sexual identity.

Smedley & Smedley (2005) stated, “History is significant because it demonstrates that race is a fairly recent construct, one that emerged well after population groups from different continents came into contact with one another.” This social construction of race is defined as physical features such as eyes (green, blue, brown), skin color (black light/dark, white, yellow) and hair (brown, red, blonde) have been proven to be associated with the components of the location of environment. These traits were not only used to identify one race from another, but also as a determining factor to establish racial superiority. As time went on, the meaning of race began to change. As “races” began melding together they created new and unique individuals. Matthew demonstrates this theory, as he successfully integrated himself into the dominant heterosexual patriarchal society, even though his appearance let him “pass” his racial construction by law determined that he was white.

Sexual identity and race overlap one another through limitations and restrictions. Individuals choose to construct their sexual identity. Foucault wrote the relationship as, “…as a series of crisscrossing boundaries dividing populations into multiple groups differentiated by religion, color, language, culture, and if we note that these boundaries are changeable and permeable (with some boundaries weakening and other boundaries strengthening and with people crossing over from one group to another), then we can begin to move away from primordialist, essentialist understandings of ethnicity and race as biological.” (p.112).

In conclusion, Tyson stated, “Race intersects with class, sex, sexual orientation, political orientation, and personal history in forming each person’s complex identity.” (p.376). Matthew Shepard sacrificed his life and in doing so strengthened the link between the social construction of sexual identity and the social construction of race…the human race.

Therefore, transformation will always be in the air, as Rust wrote (1993), “…the construction of these categorizes creates the possibility of change.”

Some of the town’s people will never begin the process of releasing the programmed stigmatism of homosexuality yet; others have been enlightened by the brutal death of Matthew and have learned from it. These are the ones that will hold close to their hearts, the cliché of “Live and Let Live.”





 Weather trend 10/07/1998

18 hours before he was found. They left the bar at 11:30 pm. You do the math.

Time (MDT): Temp.:
12:50 AM 37.9 °F
1:56 AM 30.4 °F
2:54 AM 30.4 °F
3:55 AM 30.0 °F
4:55 AM 30.9 °F
5:54 AM 30.4 °F
6:50 AM 30.0 °F
7:53 AM 33.1 °F
8:52 AM 38.5 °F
9:50 AM 45.9 °F

Home on the Range: Laramie Wyoming Stats:


1. Geography:Wyoming is about 360 miles long and 280 miles wide. On the north it bordersMontana andUtah while to the south isColorado. On the east, it is bordered bySouth Dakota andNebraska and to the west isIdaho andUtah. Several relatively flat areas betweenWyoming mountain ranges are part of the Intermontane Basins. These areas are characterized by short grasses and lower brush. They are mostly treeless and don’t receive the amounts of rainfall that are found in the mountains. Major basins are the Bighorn andPowderRiver Basins in the north, theWindRiver Basin in centralWyoming and the Green River, Great Divide, andWashakieBasins in the south. Ranges of theRocky Mountains cross the state in a mainly northwest southeast direction. In the southeast are the 10,000 to 12,000 footLaramie and Medicine Bow mountains, which enclose the Shirley andLaramie basins. Nearby is the Sierra Madre range. Ranges in centralWyoming are relatively low; those in the northwest rise to great heights. The Wind River Range contains the state’s highest mountain,Gannett Peak, which is 13,804 feet. The Bighorn Mountains, in the north, and theAbsarokaMountains, in the northwest, rise to more than 13,000 feet and edge theBighornBasin. Most of southwesternWyoming is part of the broadWyomingBasin, which includes a number of smaller basins.

2. Climate: TheGreat Plains and the large western basins have a dry and sunny climate. The mountains, in contrast, have a more humid, colder climate, which becomes more severe with increasing elevation. Summers are fairly warm on the plains and in the basins. July temperatures often reach 80° to 90° F. during the day, but drop sharply at night; they average about 60° to 75° F. throughout most of the state. Freezing temperatures can occur in the mountains throughout the summer months.

Winters are long and cold with occasional blizzards as well as brief periods of mild weather brought by chinook winds. October’s minimum temperature is 29° and the mean is 44°. January temperatures often dip considerably below 0° F., but average 10° to 25° F., depending on location. The coldest weather is in the mountain basins. Most of theGreat Plainsreceives 12 to 16 inches ofprecipitation each year; the western basins, 5 to 10 inches. However, the total amount, both locally and for the state as a whole, is highly variable from year to year. Snowfall is heavy only in the mountains, where it reaches 200 inches a year or more.

3. History: Laramie nicknamed, “Gem City of the Plains” is the third oldest town in Wyoming which is nicknamed, “The Equality State.” Its county seat, Cheyenne is also its capital. The city was named after the trapper, Jacques la Ramie, who built a cabin at the junction of Laramie and Platte Rivers. In 1866 the route for a transcontinental railroad was selected and as it approached the Laramie area, railroad employees and tradesmen began arriving. Knoblich (2001) recited, “In 1868, Wyoming territorial organizers had every reason to expect the rapid growth of urban settlements and economic activities. They believed they were on the cutting edge of the expansion of industrial development, not waiting in a rural backwater for industry to come their way; industry in the form of Union Pacific railroad construction and maintenance, precipitated political organization.” Union Pacific Railroad’s chief surveyor, General Grenville Dodge selected the Laramie town site and its name, Laramie City. The railroad began selling lots in April of that year. On May 9th, the line throughLaramie was completed with the first train arriving the next day. Buildings such as churches, houses, stores and a school were constructed in the city soon after the first train arrived. It was unfortunate that the industrial progression did not come as expected resulting through the train, but as Knoblich (2001) described it, “…hunters and fishers, hikers and campers certainly did.” (p.209)Laramie’s early days typified a Wild West town, complete with rough and rowdy characters. Vigilante justice mitigated and in order t resolve this issue in 1872 the Wyoming Territorial Prison was built nearLaramie. In later years, this prison housed many famous outlaws, including Butch Cassidy. A second accomplishment for this city was having a dream come true, for the Women’s Suffrage Movement. In 1869, According to the website The Aurty, “…the twenty-member Territorial Legislature approved a revolutionary measure stating: That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote. William Bright, the bill’s sponsor, had come to share his wife, Julia’s, belief that suffrage was a basic right of American citizenship.” There was no organized suffrage campaign, and not a single parade, debate or public display. But women kept vigil outside Governor John A. Campbell’s office until he signed the bill into law. Eliza A. “Grandma” Swain of Laramie claimed the honor of castingWyoming’s first female ballot on September 6, 1870. She was first woman to vote legally in theUnited States. After this monumental moment in history, women gained fame as the nation’s first female justices of the peace. The next year Wyoming’s women sat on juries. It is clear that Wyoming women embraced their right to vote and loyally defended it against all threats. The City was incorporated on Dec 12, 1873 seventeen years beforeWyomingbecame a state. In 1924 they are also acclaimed for having the first woman as governor. Today,Laramieis still a small town which sits on the high plains prairie of the Medicine Bow Mountain Range. Its history is close to home in the Wyoming Children’s Museum andNatureCenter, University of Wyoming Geological Museum,AmericanHeritageCenter, University of Wyoming Art Museum, University of Wyoming Anthropology Museum and theLaramie Plains Museum.

Laramie will always have a place of infamy as it will be sadly and notoriously known as the town where there had been a brutal torture and slaying of a young gay man who was barely 22 years old. It was considered a hate crime in 1998.

4. Demography: The Economic Expert website (2010) posted these statistics: The racial makeup of the city is 90.81% White, 1.24% African American, 0.89% Native American, 1.92% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 2.89% from other races, and 2.19% from two or more races. 7.94% of the population is Hispanic or Latino of any race. TheCounty ofLaramie, a middle class town inWyoming, as of 2009, has a population of 86,353 people. In the city ofLaramie, the population is spread out with 17.5% under the age of 18, 31.8% from 18 to 24, 25.8% from 25 to 44, 16.8% from 45 to 64, and 8.1% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 25 years. For every 100 females there are 107.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 106.7 males. The median income for a household in the city is $27,319, and the median income for a family is $43,395. Males have a median income of $30,888 versus $22,009 for females. The per capita income for the city is $16,036. 22.6% of the population and 11.1% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 15.7% of those under the age of 18 and 8.3% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

5. Culture: Laramie is a rural culture. Knoblich (2001) stated, “Wyoming resident’s original dreams of a diversified economy, including both rural and urban development, were rapidly and consistently accompanied by cultural images of the state as “Western.” For insiders and outsiders alike, these images identified Wyoming the beautiful natural scenery and the world of the range cowboy – in short, as an underdeveloped, even undevelopable place. The cultural forces shaped Wyoming’s state identity.” (p. 201). The cowboy culture is more of a mind set. This individual was kind, tough, and hard working, he stood for morals. The Thomas Ranch Website (2003) was informative in bringing to light the definition, “The morals of the Cowboy are steadfast. He takes on and accomplishes any job given to him, no matter how hard or dangerous this job maybe. He rides and competes for pride, not for the actual belt buckle or title. A Cowboy stands for all that is pure and true. He knows that a job must be done. He can stay all night on a trail of cattle being pushed around the state or country, he could at the same time go twenty miles out of his way to take a sick dog to a vet for a child. They were never looking for trouble, but when it came, they faced it with courage and dignity. The Cowboy is always on the right side (if there is a right side). They defend good people, who cannot defend themselves, against bad people. They have always had high morals. They had good manners and were honest.” A second prevalent culture is the university cultural aspect which has a population of half the size of the city population. The bars inLaramieare frequented byWyomingstudents, andLaramie’s residents visit the campus to attend cultural and athletic events.

6. Language: There are two main languages that stem from two different types of people, maybe even classes. Individual’s who attend college will perceive the world in more diverse aspect and therefore, have a dissimilar dialect then say a farmer, cowboy, rancher or a non-student. The terminology is different and even body language can be misunderstood.

7. Religious Beliefs: The town is divided. Laramie Church Of Christ/ Saint Laurence O’Toole Catholic Church/WestboroBaptistChurch /Saint Paul’s United Church Of Christ andTrinityEvangelicalLutheranChurch, all have their individual belief systems which seemed to be respected, but what divided the people was the concept of the equality of one man. The Westboro Baptist Church ignited the division and I think the website says it all, “”. From this website I quote, “Since 1955, WestboroBaptistChurchhas taken forth the precious from the vile, and so is as the mouth of God (Jer. 15:19). In 1991, WBC took her ministry to the streets, conducting 41,226 peaceful demonstrations (to date) opposing the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth.” The moral beliefs and values of individuals of this town have been questioned and torn apart. As an NBC reporter put it while standing outside aLaramiedrinking joint, “At Wild Willies Cowboy Bar today, patrons said hate is easy to find here.”

8. Education:TheUniversity ofWyoming, located on the windswept plains ofLaramie is the state’s only four year educational institution. Its estimated 13,000 students have a choice of seven schools: Agriculture, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering, Health Sciences, and Law. The most popular schools are Business and Education, butWyoming also has very strong Geology and Biology programs.Wyoming has a reputation as a big party school, and many of its students are involved in Greek life. Most of the student body comes fromWyomingor from nearbyColorado, and it is a predominantly white, conservative school. About a third of the students live on campus, which makes the school residence halls the most densely populated area in the state. Students frequently complain of the altitude, 7,000 ft. above sea level and the relentless wind. A student should be prepared to face long winters, strong winds, and social restrictions. Some have been known to experience loneliness.

Other educational facilities that are available to individuals are Wyoming Technical Institute which is a vocational school offering careers in automotive, diesel, or collision/refinishing andLaramieCountyCommunity Collegewhich enrolls more than 1500 students in credit courses each year and an additional 250 students for non credit programs.

9. Transportation: The City ofLaramie sits clearly at the crossroads of two major interstates and railroads which acts as a transportation corridor for the east/west connections of Interstate 80. The location provides connections for trucks, interstate traffic, and traditional rail freight cars passing through theRocky Mountain region. Union Pacific Railroad mainline operates over 55 freight trains on a daily basis throughLaramie. Interstate 80’s highest point, 8,640 feet, is at the summit of theLaramieRangein thePoleMountainarea. The City ofLaramieis also served by theLaramieRegionalAirport. Flights are offered on a daily basis. The airport offers service for commercial air flights as well as private planes. Greyhound has a bus depot located in the city.

10. Economy: Agriculture is an essential and fundamental aspect ofLaramie’s economy. It is relative to the natural resource sectors consisting of raising of cattle/calves, hay, hogs, sheep, lamb, wheat and barley. The main exports are feeders, fodders, feed grains, wheat, seeds and animals (dead or alive).

11. Major Industry:Wyoming is known for its coal and oil industry which has been a part of theWyoming economy since the beginning days of statehood. Although the fields inWyoming, for the most part, are aging, oil production and coal mining remain important to the state in 2009. One of the current issues is that a neighboring city of Laramie, Cheyenne, will effect Laramie’s economy in the future by incorporating a company that will capture over half of the carbon dioxide emitted during the coal refining process. Nearly (2009) wrote, “It plans to pipe the CO2 gas toWyoming oil fields where pumping it underground would serve the dual purpose of keeping it out of the atmosphere while pressurizing the oil reserves to allow more of it to be pumped out. The U.S. Department of Energy is weighing an application from DKRW Advanced Fuels LLC of Houston for a loan to help build the proposed $2.7 billion coal-to-gasoline plant. This would be the first major industrial gasification facility that produces transport fuels — gasoline or diesel — from coal in theUnited States, DKRW chairman Bob Kelly ofHoustonsaid Friday. The plant would process nearly 10,000 tons of low-sulfur coal a day from a mine into 21,000 barrels a day of gasoline. The fuel then would be piped roughly 200 miles southeast to theDenvermarket.”

12. Rural Income: Unprecedented economic growth during the 1990s benefited rural areas. Rural income grew from $16,506 in 1993 to $21,831 in 2000, and the percentage of rural people in poverty fell from 17.1 to 13.4 percent over that period. Welfare policy and the growing economy contributed to declines in food stamps, assistance to needy families, and unemployment. But, the 2001 recession caused rural income growth to slow and poverty and assistance payments to slowly rise.

Today’s ratings range from (lowest) to (highest).Characteristic Compared to Peers (small towns nationwide) Compared to State
Median Family Income
People in Middle Class or Better
People Above Poverty

13. Employment/Unemployment: The Census Bureau reported, “Through the third quarter of 2009, the greaterCheyenne economy has preformed much as expected since the start of the Great Recession (December, 2007). Anticipated declines in local employment and increased rates of unemployment lagged these same national indicators by a little more than 12 months. By the close of the third quarter,Laramie’s unemployment rate had risen to 6.1 percent, up 33 percent from December 2007’s rate of 4.6 percent. The just released unemployment rate for October 2009 was 7.2 percent.” The blue collar occupations in Laramieinclude farming, forestry and fishing; handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers and laborers; machine operators, assemblers and inspectors; precision production, craft and repair; private household services; protective services, transportation and material moving.

14. Hazards: One of Wyoming’s natural hazards is earthquakes and there is suspected active faults with surficial expressions under the ground. In 1882, a magnitude of 6.2 to 6.5 intensity occurred between Laramie and Estes Park, Colorado. These occurrences are common in Wyoming. Historically, they have happened in every county over the past 120 years. One earthquake in Colorado caused minor damage in southern Wyoming. Plaster fell and windows broke as far north asLaramie. An aftershock was reported to be almost as strong as the main shock inLaramie and Denver.

LaramieWyomingat first glance is just a small town in the mid west. But, closer examination reveals underlying mental, physical and environmental limitations.

After reading the book, I discovered many reasons for this, including financial constraints, the need to recover from failure, and loss, and fatigue and frustration of pursuit itself. As Laramie expanded and Wyoming became a state, the size and status of the population changed as well. I was saddened by the strong split of moral, ethical and religious belief systems held by these people. On the one side, support for the LGBT community as opposed to the traits of the “haters.”

At last count, I explored 65 web sites as well as reading, “The Laramie Project” play. I have learned that discrimination of individuals have existed from the beginning of time and will arise when least expected in the largest of cities as well as the smallest of American towns. The cliché holds true, “We are everywhere.” Oppressors come in all shapes, sizes and colors and these individuals showed themselves and were heard loudly as their voices screamed sounds of hatred.


Adult Beliefs, Behaviors, and Perceptions about Alcohol Use. Retrieved February 2, 2010 from

Blanchard, R.O. (1999). The “HateState” Myth. Retrieved February 1, 2010, from

City ofLaramie. (2008). Financial Report. Retrieved January 28, 2010, from

Economic indicators for greater Cheyenne. Annual trends addition.Wyoming Center for Business and Economic Analysis, 25 (1). Retrieved January 28, 2010, from

Gibbs. R. (2006). Rural income, poverty and welfare. Retrieved January 30, 2010 from

Knoblich, F. (2001). Creating the Cowboy state: Culture and underdevelopment in Wyoming since 1867. The Western Historical Quarterly, 32, (2), 201-221. Retrieved January 31, 2010, from &term=underdevelopment&term=Cowboy&list=hide&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3DCreating%2Bthe%2Bcowboy%2Bstate%253A%2BCulture%2Band%2Bunderdevelopment%2Bin%2BWyoming%2Bsince%2B1867%26wc%3Don%26x%3D9%26y %3D12&item=1&ttl=12&returnArticleService=showArticle

Laramie,Wyoming. (2010). Retrieved January 25, 2010, from

Neary. B (2009). Plans progress for Wyoming coal-to-gasoline plant. Retrieved February 1, 2010 from

Robert. P. New History ofWyoming. Chapter 9 History of oil in Wyoming. Retrieved February 1, 2010 from

What is a cowboy? (2003). Retrieved from

Wyoming. (2009). Retrieved January 15, 2010, from

Wyoming the “Equality State.” Retrieved January 30, 2010, from



  1. You can definitely see your skills in the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. All the time go after your heart.

    • Thank you for your kind words, I truly appreciate it. Follow your heart has always been my motto. If you are interested in reading more of my work, please visit my primary blog. Have a great day!!! Danelle 🙂

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