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  • Reverend James Squire

The Big Lie and Laramie Project




One of the things that I have learned through various decision-making models is that if you want to understand what is happening currently go to a previous event that had similar characteristics. You should learn from precedents. That is the heart of law school as well.


In trying to understand the Big Lie that the election was stolen I went back to a personal experience that I had in the early 2000(s). It was decided that our Theater Department would present The Laramie Project as the Fall play. The Laramie Project is about the events that surrounded the murder in 1998 of Matthew Shepard who was a gay University of Wyoming student in Laramie, Wyoming. The Laramie Project was drawn from 200 interviews conducted by Artistic Director Moises Kaufman and is still studied in schools as a method of teaching prejudice and tolerance. The play dealt with prejudice specifically against gay people.


There was one problem, however, as our school had not done much at that point in time to address the issue of prejudice against gay people. A courageous gay faculty member met with me in my office and volunteered to address chapel as a way of introducing the whole subject of respect for others different from us which is found in The Laramie Project. Most of his speech was about respect. A small amount was about his own sexual orientation. After chapel I went to my office and the phone was already ringing about how I supported someone for “coming out” in chapel. This was true of phone calls to other administrators as well. There was nothing said about “respecting others who are different”. The “coming out” issue dominated the community conversation. Since our school has alumni who are in this country and abroad, I literally was hearing criticism from all over the world.


The Big Lie here was that the intention was not on revealing the faculty member’s sexual orientation but on respect for differences as we got ready for the Fall play. That was the context for the address. The way to Hell is paved with good intentions and I and others found ourselves very much in a hellish situation.


I want to mention one conversation with a caller to make a point that is similar to what happened in the Big Lie that the election was stolen. He did not tell me who he was but wanted me to know that he represented a large group of parents who were angry about my promotion of a “gay agenda”. He berated me with disrespectful statements that I will spare you from reading. I volunteered to meet with him and his large group at a time and place of his choosing to discuss the matter. I never heard back from him again.


The story of the chapel address on respect became fixed in the culture of our school as a “coming out story”. Years later I received a call from one of our Development Officers who was meeting in Florida with alumni who were potential donors. She said, “Jim, people here are still angry that you let a faculty member come out in chapel.” The video of the address was available then so I asked if any of the people were familiar with the content of the address. They were not but they HEARD about it. As is true about the steal of the election, their view supported what they wanted to believe, and to make the situation more complex a good many of these folks were friends of mine. There was little looking at the facts or content.


I am pleased that now EA is a school that has moved forward to a much better place. People now feel safe to talk about the issue, some agree to disagree, and some have spoken about this in chapel with great support and little community conversation.


I made some mistakes along the way. The chapel experience was then and remains now the safest and most important place on campus for what is said and done there. I had Brian Sims, one of the Pennsylvania State legislators, address the issue of respect for those with a different sexual orientation in chapel as well as others. Criticism was made about the chapel not being a place for these addresses. I had a few students who requested to speak about this. I had them speak in the theater in place of chapel because the place became the lightning rod for criticism. I thought I was protecting the students, but this was a mistake on my part as I should have had all of those student addresses done in chapel as a statement of social justice which is at the heart of the Gospel.


I learned something very important a few years ago when I had the request for the first transgender person to speak in chapel. She was the recommendation from our 50th reunion class and would kick off Alumni Weekend. The class was all male. Their recommendation was a woman transgender classmate. They all voted for her to be the speaker. They did this for two reasons. She was their top student and became an award-winning attorney in Colorado. But more important, they knew her and respected her. When she finished her chapel address, she received a five-minutes standing ovation. I still had people who were angry with me, but Vicki and I had dinner with the 50th reunion class that night. The tears of gratitude by the speaker who was moved by the community response made it all worthwhile.


I had just finished co teaching a course on diversity issues when I got the request. Their request underscored what I was teaching. If you take the time to get to know someone no matter what the isms, you will more than likely gain respect for “the other”.


For the Big Lie of the steal, not enough people went beyond what they heard to examine the facts and the intent of the American people. At times we look for self-confirming data of what we want. Like the man who berated me on the phone who represented a large group of people, that sounds familiar as the words of our elected officials and Trump whose cowardice hid behind the “mythical they” and “mythical facts”.


By the way, The Laramie Project was well received and generated great discussion in our school community after it was performed.


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