Saturday, October 12, 2013

15 Years

Today is a special day, and it deserves a special Dance Party;  sadly, it carries a somber tone.  Today marks the 15th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, about whom I wrote five years ago.  This gay college kid was brutally assaulted in a field in Wyoming, strapped to a fence and left to die, because of his homosexuality.
In response to Matthew Shepard's murder, playwright Moises Kaufman took his theatre company to the scene of the crime and interviewed the residents of the town where the brutality took place.  The result was The Laramie Project, which has become a shining example of the docudrama genre.  And it's back in the news:  a college production at the University of Mississippi was disrupted last week by a student audience which shouted epithets during the show.  There were football players involved, and as Ol' Miss treats their sports stars as gods, there is unlikely to be any serious penalties for their brutish behavior.  The pic above is not from that production;  instead, it is from the current production at DC's Ford's Theatre, surely one of the highest profile venues this show has seen in a while.  Bad news there too:  Ford's Theatre is operated by the federal Parks Dept., so the building has been closed during the government shutdown.  Ford's Laramie Project is now homeless, and has been presenting a few performances at a nearby church.
Coincidentally, yesterday was International Coming Out Day, designated to commemorate the anniversary of the Great March on Washington which took place in 1987 in support of Gay Rights.  That march, attended by about half a million people, came at the height of the AIDS crisis, as an indictment of the Reagan administration's refusal to acknowledge the ongoing epidemic.
This actor was completely unknown to me;  apparently, his major claim to fame was as a star of a TV show called Prison Break.  He recently came out, and tells the story of his own thoughts of suicide as a teen.
So many lives were lost to the disease back then, and today, death still haunts our tribe.  It's more likely, these days, that a gay youngster dies as a result of bullying.  The fatal attack on Matthew Shepard is a prime example of such homophobia, and since that atrocity, many many teens and young adults have taken their own lives as a result of persistent bullying.  This special edition of the Dance Party features a little video created to honor those kids.

Remember this guy? Tyler Clementi was a student at Rutgers who was secretly videotaped in his own dorm room by his roommate, having a sexual encounter with a date.  The encounter was live streamed on the Internet by the roommate, causing Clementi such humiliation that he posted on his Facebook page "jumping off the GW bridge.  sorry."  And then he did.  The roommate who secretly pointed a webcam at Tyler, Dharun Ravi, was never charged in the death.  He was found guilty of other minor charges, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.  He served only 20 before being released. His actions directly caused the death of Tyler Clementi, and he was jailed for less than 3 weeks.
The star of the clip below, if you can call him that, goes by the overly precious name of Davey Wavey. 
This is what Davey Wavey looks like in most of the videos I've come across.  Several years ago, he posted a personal video on YouTube, describing the day he looked out his window and caught his neighbor masturbating.  Naturally, the video went viral, and an Internet star was born.
In the years since he posted his voyeuristic video, Davey Wavey has carved out a career as a gay rights advocate, fitness guru, and self-help specialist in the online gay community. 

Activism has its perks, if you look
like this. Davey now has his own
line of underwear.

The video below is one of the only ones I have found in which Davey is fully clothed, as he is famous for his shirtless videos (see above).  But I applaud his efforts in this clip, which was created several years ago, in the midst of what seemed to be an epidemic of gay teen suicides. 
Asher Brown was repeatedly bullied at school,
so much so that his parents made numerous
complaints to the administration. No action
was taken. Asher shot himself. He was 13.

Such suicides have been happening for decades, of course, but for some reason a few years ago, many of them became high-profile cases covered by the mainstream media.  The suicide of gay teens has not subsided (LGBT kids are four times more likely to try suicide than their straight counterparts), but publicity regarding them seems to have slacked a bit.
This is Joe Bell.  His son Jadin was yet another teen victimized by anti-gay bullying, and he committed suicide in February.  Jadin's father Joe began his Walk For Change, to raise awareness about bullying.  Despite the fact that he has two artificial knees, his plan was to walk across the country;  he began in Oregon and got as far as Colorado.  This week, Joe was run over by a semi-truck, whose driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.  Joe was killed. This special Dance Party is dedicated to him, too.

In the video below, you will see Davey and his friend inflate and then release balloons.  This practice dates back to the countless AIDS funerals of the 1980s, when it was common to release a balloon into the sky, signifying the release of the deceased's spirit into the atmosphere. 
This poignant playlet, filmed for PBS, used
"memorial balloons" to great effect.

The sheer number of balloons which Davey prepares here is saddening, as each represents a gay youth who took his or her own life;  I shudder to think how many more would have been added in the years since this video was made.  In honor of all those kids, and in honor of Matthew Shepard, here are those balloons.