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We Can Be Who We Want to Be
Everything seemed to come together seamlessly, like a beautiful tapestry woven from well-thought out stitches. Louis Yurkovic ’10, with help from Dean of Students Gina Crance, scheduled Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a fatal hate crime in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998, to lecture at Albright. Matthew’s death and the impact it had on the town prompted the creation of The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project, which Albright’s Domino Players were set to perform. Opening night was May 1. In addition, the Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based organization that raises awareness and acceptance of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, was being held that weekend. Everything was just falling into place.
Then, two weeks prior, the news broke that Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a Kansas-based, anti-homosexual religious group, planned to protest Judy Shepard’s speech and Albright’s opening night of The Laramie Project. Although Louis and his fellow Gay Straight Alliance members had been aware that there might be some resistance to Matthew Shepard’s story, it seemed only a remote possibility. Now it was real and something had to be done.
As soon as Albright students became aware that WBC planned to protest the events, a Facebook group called “Stand Up for Love” was created. In two hours the group’s membership grew to nearly 100, and in the following two weeks it tripled. However, we knew that we—and the administration—didn’t want people’s emotions to get the better of them, so we needed to organize the “Stand Up for Love” initiative and we needed to do it fast.
The next two days were crazy. We wrote e-mails, held meetings, created a t-shirt design—a heart of any color on a white shirt— to show our unity, met with Dean Crance to set the agenda for the demonstration and tried to keep sane in the process.
We decided to demonstrate on the night of the Judy Shepard lecture and on opening night of The Laramie Project. Both would be silent, non-violent demonstrations in support of love—any kind of love.
Around 6 p.m. on the night of the lecture, people began gathering outside the Chapel, donning their white t-shirts with hearts on them, carrying posters and banners, and preparing to make a statement without saying a word.
Kasual Owens-Fields ’12, Stand Up for Love’s dedicated secretary, and I organized people into rows, reminding everyone that control over our voices is a powerful message. And then we stood. New faces continuously joined the crowd. Some people held hands; others stood solemnly, waiting to see if WBC would show up. A few cried. Everyone was completely quiet.
When Louis exited Alumni Hall, laughing and chatting with Judy Shepard, he stopped, eyes wide, as he witnessed a sea of people to the left of the Chapel, united in their purposeful silence. His body went completely numb, he says, as he stood with Judy Shepard looking out at the silent demonstrators.
The WBC never showed up, but our message did not fall on deaf ears; this was Albright at its finest. Truly the most life-altering event that Louis and I have ever experienced at Albright College, we could not have done it without the help and support of many people—faculty, students and administrators—at Albright. Thanks to everyone for fulfilling Albright’s mantra, “a different way of thinking,” and allowing us to be who we want to be.
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