I can see that as I have aged and gained in knowledge and life experience I have found myself caring less and less about ‘fitting in’ with social norms, but this was not always so. At this point in my life though, I think ‘peer pressure’ only has so much effect, in that I will many times, simply give an impression of fitting in, and then just go ‘do my own thing’. I do not believe that I would inflict harm on others because of social pressure.
Then I watched an HBO film about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard (a man who was gay) titled, The Laramie Project. The Laramie Project originated when members of The Tectonic Theatre Project went to the small town of Laramie, Wyoming in order to interview the residents concerning the circumstances surrounding the murder of Matthew and their reaction this event, in order to put on a production concerning it.
The film version of The Laramie Project revealed to me that many folks in the community of Laramie harbored a great deal of hatred and animosity against people who were gay, not unlike how I grew up. It also revealed a great deal of silence from those who were not opposed ‘to the gay lifestyle’. In the end, the community sentenced the murderers to life in prison. Yet, most of these folks probably did not understand how they were also complicit in the crime themselves, simply by maintaining beliefs and taking actions that stigmatized people who were gay.
I don’t claim that this explains or justifies what occurred at that place and time – the brutal murder of a young man plus the fact that two other young men’s lives are now limited to existence rather than living (and how this effects their families and their loved ones) – but it does shed light on how social pressure to conform can play out in a very, very bad way.
It was interesting to see that it was through the interviewing of folks, and speaking to them about their individual beliefs and feelings, that they eventually came to a place where they were able to outwardly show support to (now deceased) Matthew. It did appear in the end, that more of the community supported people who were gay than those who did not. Yet this would have never been known in a situation of silence. In this way, it seems that a very small minority of haters had control of the entire community, and by breaking the silence they (and perhaps all of us) are now becoming more free.
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