A year after Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998, a cross made of stones rests below the fence near Laramie, Wyo., where he was tied and fatally pistol-whipped. “The Laramie Project” is based on interviews with residents of the town.
While trying to teach her students about homophobia, Debra Taylor could have done without what appeared to be an illustrative demonstration: The Oklahoma high school teacher was forced to resign in a controversy that grew out of a gay-related project undertaken by her class. Taylor and her students had been working on their own production of “The Laramie Project,” a play and film based on the murder of Matthew Shepard.
Taylor, 50, knew the project was controversial with strong language, but got her principal’s permission. A few weeks into it, the principal told her to stop production. After students protested, she held a 20-minute ceremony in a nearby park in which students wrote their thoughts and rolled them into helium balloons, then released them.
The next day, Taylor says, Superintendent Ed Turlington canceled the class. After she complained to a school board member, Turlington put her on paid leave and recommended that she be fired. The school board approved her resignation Friday.
Taylor says she was let go for complaining to the board member, but others say it was a result of the play’s subject: homophobia. “They don’t want something like this addressed in our community,” says senior Matt Ebner, one of Taylor’s former students.