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School Refuses To Give In To Demand 'Laramie Project' Be Canceled

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School Refuses To Give In To Demand 'Laramie Project' Be Canceled

by The Associated Press

September 7, 2006 - 9:00 pm ET

(West Des Moines Iowa) Some parents at Valley High School are upset over the school's decision to let students perform "The Laramie Project," a play based on Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who was killed because he was gay.

The play discusses homosexuality, uses profanity and contains violence.

School officials said it teaches tolerance and acceptance of others. They hope the play will encourage families to discuss diversity, hate crimes and whether such behavior is acceptable.

"It is edgy, but it is for a mature audience," said Phyllis Staplin, West Des Moines' director of curriculum. "There is no doubt about it, this is providing a teaching opportunity for diversity and acceptance."

About 90 students were signed up to audition for the play this week.

"The Laramie Project" is based on Shepard, who was severely beaten and left to die on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo., in 1998. His killers admitted they attacked him because he was gay. He died several days later.

Kate Vohs, a Valley senior who auditioned for the play, said it can dispel the myth that hate crimes don't happen in a particular community.

"But they do, and they exist in our community, too," she said.

Some parents said they are upset by the profanity used in the play and scenes that contain graphic violence and depiction's of sex.

The parents said they plan to express their concerns to the school board on Sept. 18.

"It is inappropriate material for high schools because of the profanity," said Wendy Ogden, the parent of a drama student. "It's not the issue of homosexuality that I don't think should be discussed.

"I think there are a lot of people who have severe beliefs about homosexuality, and even teenage sexuality in general," she said. "I don't think it's right to portray it in a positive light without ever discussing the seriousness of it."

School Board President Deb Thomas isn't bothered by the subject matter but said the language and violence in the play should be toned down.

The play is relevant to what happens in high schools because some students are treated with hatred because they are viewed as being different than others, she said.

"If we just focus on the issue of homosexuality, we've really missed the boat," Thomas said.

Sara Sullivan said her daughter tried out for the play but found it difficult to find a part because she was uncomfortable with the profanity.

"The language is really inappropriate, and it kind of puts them in a predicament because they know it's wrong," she said.

Staplin said school officials plan to "soften" the language of the play.

The play has met controversy at other schools.

In Oregon, a high school superintendent canceled the play's performance. In other parts of the country, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kan., known for staging anti-gay protests, have picketed outside schools where the play was performed.

©365Gay.com 2006

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