Tectonic Theater Project at The Matthew Shepard Foundation is making scripts of The Laramie Project available free to students in Lansing, Kansas, following the work's classroom ban by the Lansing Board of Education. The 2000 docu-play uses the text of real interviews conducted by the work's original cast to tell the story of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, who was targeted because of his homosexuality.
The work was one of three studied in Lansing High School's Social Justice Expository Unit in the senior-level English Composition class. The unit also worked with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's essay We Should All Be Feminists and the 2016 documentary 13th, which tracks the history of racial inequality in the U.S.
A local mother petitioned that the unit be removed from the curriculum after removing her daughter from the class in October 2022, alleging that the school was teaching critical race theory and, in statements made to FOX4, that students were being "trained to feel like victims and to be hopeless that they can change social justice or change injustice because we're not teaching them about the tools they have right there at their disposal to make a difference."
An internal committee initially recommended the curriculum remain, but a 4-3 vote by the Lansing Board of Education held January 30 officially removed the materials from the school curriculum.
"At Tectonic Theater Project, we create work that advocates for radical empathy and thoughtful dialogue. We stand with the students of Lansing," says Tectonic Artistic Director and Laramie Project co-author Moisés Kaufman.
"It’s the goal of the Matthew Shepard Foundation to create an environment where people are afforded an opportunity to discuss the play and its messages, the hate they encounter in their own lives, and how they can work collectively to build a more understanding and compassionate community," adds Shepard Foundation Executive Vice President of Strategy and Communications Dana Juniel.
The organizations are encouraging Lansing students affected by the ban to contact [email protected] with their name and mailing address to request a copy of The Laramie Project for their own personal reading.
The incident is part of a disturbing trend in U.S. school censorship, particularly around material with LGBTQ+ themes. Florida's Douglas Anderson School of the Arts had a planned run of Paula Vogel's Indecent canceled last month, with students claiming anti-LGBTQ censorship as the reasoning, particularly following the 2022 passing of the "Parental Rights in Education" Law, colloquially known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. Ohio's Cardinal High School also recently canceled its own theatrical production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, due to, among other content issues, its depiction of gay parents.
Updated, 4:10 PM ET: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the school district as being in Lansing, Michigan rather than Lansing, Kansas.