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Play too gay?

The Surrey school district cancelled a student production of The Laramie Project saying the play contains too much sex, violence, and foul language to be appropriate for family viewing, the Vancouver Sun reported Sep 22.

The play about the murder of gay Laramie Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten and left to die by two men who picked him up in a bar, has been performed at least 1,500 times across North America including one performance by students at a Mission high school.

“Senior staff reviewed the script and recognized a lot of powerful messages around tolerance and diversity and saw value in that,” Surrey school district communications manager Doug Strachan told Xtra West Sep 22. “At the same time, the profanity and passages discussing jail rape were by most people’s standards inappropriate for children.”

Strachan says there was an open audition call for students from Grades 8-12.

Alex Carson, a student who hoped to audition for the play, is quoted in the Sun saying, “We were told it was too violent and there was homosexuality in it. But the only violence was just people talking about it-there’s no actual violence in the play.”

Strachan dismisses Carson’s comment. “All I can speak for is the communication from the district and the principal,” says Strachan. “The issue is one of using some discretion with regard to the context that it’s intended to be a family entertainment play. There are siblings in elementary school up to grandparents and other relatives who will see the play.”

The Surrey school district fought for almost seven years to exclude three gay-themed children’s books from school libraries until the Supreme Court of Canada ordered it to reconsider in December 2002.

Strachan says the administration discussed the decision to cancel the play very seriously in light of the book controversy. “It’s understandable that the media would pick up on that angle,” he says. “These issues are judged on their merits as they arise.”

He says the school district will look at ways to adapt or restrict the play so that it may be produced by students sometime in the future.

The Sun reported that the Laramie Project will be replaced by a production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, a play about censorship.