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Laramie Residency Panel Discussion and Q&A with Thomas Howard, Programs Director, Matthew Shepard Foundation

Thomas Howard

Carole McFall
September 22, 2010

A distinguished panel gathered in the Bright Family Screening Room September 21 to discuss the struggle for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) rights and protections.

Moderator Carole Simpson, a former ABC News anchor and current Leader-in-Residence in Emerson’s Journalism Department, asked the panelists to share their view of where we are today with GLBT rights and protections.

The panelists shared their remarkable personal stories: Ryan Andaluz talked about when he “came out” at 28 and struggled with being stereotyped, and David Wilson spoke about being denied access to information about his partner’s condition after he had been rushed to the hospital.

“When the issues are made public, suddenly people are forced to think about it. We need these conversations to go on and not to go underground.”

In each of their remarks, they recognized that there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that people are not bullied because of differences of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity. However, they were also optimistic about the future, and continue to be advocates for ongoing dialogue about the issues surrounding GLBT rights and protections.

As panelist Carol Rose pointed out, “When the issues are made public, suddenly people are forced to think about it. We need these conversations to go on and not to go underground.” She, along with other panelists, applauded the transformative nature of the arts and theater and stressed the importance of programs such as the Laramie Project productions in getting people to talk about the issues.

A second panel discussion titled “Be a part of the solution: taking action against hate” takes place tonight, Wednesday, September 22, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm in the Bright Family Screening Room.

For more information on the panel program, visit the Laramie Project productions »


A Q & A with panelist Thomas Howard, Programs Director, Matthew Shepard Foundation

Q: How long have you been Program Director at the Matthew Shepard Foundation?
A: Four years.

Q: How did you get involved with the Foundation?
A: I booked Judy Shepard to speak at an undergrad program and on the way to the airport after her talk, we knew we’d be working together. Shortly after, I got the call from Judy and packed up and moved from D.C. to Denver.

Q: What is it about The Laramie Project that resonates with high school and college students?
A: It’s a real story—it’s not necessarily words that were written but they were assembled. I’m continuously amazed by how transcendent the story is. It’s unique because you can drive to Laramie and talk with any one of those people. It’s not fabricated. The play’s message resonates with everyone because it’s about how a town reacts and responds to a tragedy, whatever the tragedy may be.

Most of my time is spent traveling and talking to high school and college students about how to make campuses safer for everyone.

Q: How do we make campuses safer?
A: You tell stories to make campuses safer. I share my own story. It’s important to share experiences to create understanding. And, we need to make each other accountable. It’s no longer okay for certain things to be said and certain actions to take place. It should not be okay for someone not to feel like they belong. I tell kids “you set the tone” going forward. I ask them, “Do you want people to feel love, valued, and affirmed and not marginalized, picked on, put down, or hated?”

Q: What do you hope people get from tonight and tomorrow night’s panel discussions?
A: I hope they walk out with more questions than they had when they walked in. I hope what they hear and what the panelists and I say actually raise more questions and they want to talk about it with family and friends. It should be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue.

Q: You went to Harvard for graduate studies; what do you miss about Cambridge and Boston?
A: I miss the weather and the snow, the eight-foot-high snow drifts, and of course the people, and the food.

The thing about Boston that we don’t have in Denver (where the Matthew Shepard Foundation is based) is “age.” It’s amazing to think about all the people that were here before us.

I did my practicum at South Boston High School, so I still have friends here and in the Burlington area. But I don’t have much time to get together with friends during this short visit. I will be eating, though; I like to eat!

Q: Is this your first time to Emerson? What’s your impression so far?
Yes. It’s a remarkable community. It’s very apparent that this is a place that values differences rather than shuns it. Conformity is non-conformity, and you can express yourself just as you are. College should be a time to figure out what the world means to you and what you mean to the world. Emerson feels very comfortable.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: Students should not underestimate the opportunity presented to them this week with the shows being here. We’re all busy, but I hope they’ll take the time to see both Laramie shows.

Also, we have a great website, matthewsplace.com. We want it to be a Huffington Post–type site. We encourage students to provide the content.

Pictured, Thomas Howard Jr., Program Director for the Matthew Shepard Foundation.