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Tuesday marked the 12th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten to death in the town of Laramie, Wyo. The hate crime became the inspiration for Moises Kaufman’s award-winning play, The Laramie Project.

Kaufman, who is the inaugural Platt House Theater Fellow, addressed members of the Penn community on Wednesday at the Harold Prince Theater.

Kaufman, artistic director and founder of the Tectonic Theater Company, talked about creating a platform in his work to “reignite a conversation that people may or may not have been able to have with each other.”

“Who are you when you don’t have a role model to see who you are?” Kaufman asked. He talked about his experiences growing up gay in an Orthodox Jewish community in Venezuela. “I know homosexuals existed, but I didn’t know I could be one.”

Kaufman said he uses theater as a tool to discover the “fault lines that are dividing our culture.” He ended by saying, “I wish The Laramie Project didn’t have to be performed again.”

The event, which was co-sponsored by the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center, the Performing Arts Council, University Life Arts Initiatives, the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the Theater Arts Program, the Social Planning and Events Committee and Tangible Change, was part of a six-week initiative titled “Laramie and Beyond,” which works to incorporate the arts with increased awareness of LGBT and civil rights.

Bob Schoenberg, director of the LGBT Center, said he would like to see three results emerge from this initiative: “remembrance, education and a celebration of the arts.”

“If you are not embracing of difference, then at least be accepting of it,” Schoenberg said.

College junior Annie Norbitz said she found Kaufman’s talk “really compelling.”

“I liked how he was able to incorporate a discussion of recent events but kept the focus on theater,” she said.

Ty Furman, director of the University Life Arts Initiative at Penn said he was “thrilled” by Kaufman’s talk and “could have personally listened to him talk for another hour.”

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