Man hopes to spark interest for show on tolerance

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Jim Osborn, a gay man who was thrust into the national spotlight after his friend was abducted and murdered in a hate-crime incident five years ago, spoke to a gathering Saturday night in Cape Girardeau on how the community of Laramie, Wyo., changed in the crime's aftermath.

Osborn is in Southeast Missouri this week to drum up support and interest for St. Vincent Senior High School's production of "The Laramie Project," a Broadway show that addresses how intolerance leads to violence.

Osborn, after talking to Perryville High School students and later addressing the community at the Perryville Parks Center about hate and intolerance on Friday, concentrated on gay issues Saturday night at the Visions of Pride Center, a hangout of sorts for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals in Cape Girardeau. About 10 people sat on couches in an informal setting listening to Osborn.

He shared how the gay student organization at the University of Wyoming tries different ways of welcoming and keeping gay students in the organization.

He also talked about how the town changed after his friend, Matthew Shepard, died in Laramie, a town smaller than Cape Girardeau.

Not long after Shepard was killed, Osborn said, media vans showed up in swarms. Gay people were scared that they may be the target of another hate crime. Osborn became the public spokesman for the city's gay population. When he came home at night, he'd find answering-machine messages from "Good Morning America" and "Dateline NBC."

The town came together, he said, in opposition of hate.

A yellow armband campaign, used there as a symbol of tolerance or support for the gay community, took off.

The day after Shepard's murder hit the news, several people began cutting yards and yards of yellow fabric. The armbands quickly ran out. A week later, the armband makers went to Wal-Mart and the store refused to take money for the fabric. The ladies in the fabric department even cut the fabric, Osborn said. Soon, there wasn't any yellow fabric to be found in the town of Laramie.

"We had support coming from places we had never seen before," Osborn said.

The murder had varying effects in the gay community.

"We had a lot of people come out of the closet because they were angered and we had a lot of people go back into the closet because they were scared," Osborn said.

St. Vincent's play will be at 7 p.m. on March 12 and 13 and at 2 p.m. March 14.

"The play is wonderful and hands down the most accurate and authentic thing that's been done," Osborn said.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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