Plaque in Tyler park to honor Nicholas West, murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in 1993

Nicholas West

On Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, Project TAG (Tyler Area Gays) and Tyler AIDS Services will unveil a plaque in Bergfeld Park honoring the memory of Nicholas West.

West was kidnapped from Bergfeld Park on Oct.  31, 1993. He was tortured, shot and left for dead. He was targeted because his three assailants presumed he was gay. At their trial, they confessed that they wanted to kill a homosexual.

West’s two murderers received the death penalty in the case.

The story was featured recently in the Investigation Discovery channel series Hardcover Mysteries. Dallas Voice senior editor Tammye Nash, who interviewed one of West’s killers on death row, is portrayed in the show by a svelte brunette whom we all agree is perfect for the part. The story of West’s murder was also featured in Arthur Dong’s 1997 documentary Licensed to Kill.

This summer’s production of The Laramie Project was in West’s memory.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez will attend the unveiling of the plaque for West with her Smith County counterpart, J.B. Smith. So will Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass.

Following the dedication at 6 p.m., a World AIDS Day remembrance will be held at First Presbyterian Church, 230 West Rusk St. in Tyler at 6:30 p.m. followed by a candlelight vigil.

—  David Taffet

Out director disputes gay leader's comments on production of 'The Laramie Project' in Tyler

Trinity Wheeler
Trinity Wheeler

Yesterday I reported that a production of “The Laramie Project” scheduled for the Tyler Civic Theatre appeared to be in jeopardy yet again, according to Troy Carlyle, chair of Tyler Area Gays (Project TAG). But apparently there’s a difference of opinion even among supporters of the production as to what’s really happening — or at least, what should be happening. Not to start a Dallas-style bitchfest in East Texas, but it’s worth noting that Director Trinity Wheeler simply doesn’t agree with Carlyle’s assessments. Wheeler, a Tyler native who now lives and works in New York, is returning to his hometown to put on the show. Here’s Wheeler’s response to Carlyle’s comments:

“I have maintained from the beginning that ‘The Laramie Project’ is about an entire community dealing with the death of a young gay man in Laramie, WY. The play displays the power of community when people come together to deal with crisis and support each other through the healing process. While Project TAG’s initial intentions were to support the play financially, their response to recent events has divided the East Texas gay community. The true meaning of ‘The Laramie Project’ is acceptance across the spectrum of race, gender, religion, class, sexuality and creed. I feel strongly that Tyler Civic Theatre is the perfect venue for this production and the theater’s Board of Directors have been supportive since the re-approval vote last month. This is a learning process for everyone involved. The theater has never staged a production that has caused this much community debate in its entire history. There are members of the theater’s staff that have fears about this production, but I must respect those fears and work through them in a productive manner. In the end, everyone involved wants this play to happen.

—  John Wright

Tyler Civic Theatre's board again approves production of 'The Laramie Project'

I left the phone number for Tyler Area Gays Chair Troy Carlyle at the office, so I can’t call for details, but here’s the message that was just posted on Facebook:

The Board of Directors at Tyler Civic Theatre has re-approved this production of The Laramie Project!!!!!!!! Thanks to the East Texas community and people across the nation for your support. History was made in Tyler, TX tonight! Spread the word. We will see you on Opening Night June 17!!!!!!!!!

—  John Wright

Anti-gay fears threaten production of 'The Laramie Project' planned for East Texas

Another day, another example of anti-gay bigotry threatening artistic expression in Texas. Actually, this is the second one today, but who’s counting?

Troy Carlyle, chair of Tyler Area Gays (Project TAG), reports that a production of “The Laramie Project” — a play about the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard — is now in jeopardy due to homophobic backlash in the East Texas city.

According to a press release from Carlyle, the Board of Directors at the Tyler Civic Theatre voted unanimously in March to approve the production of “The Laramie Project.” Auditions have been held and actors assembled. The production, a joint venture between Project TAG and the theater, is scheduled to open on June 17 and play for three performances.

But in response to “letters of concern to the theater from Tyler citizens,” some board members are withdrawing their support, and a second vote reportedly will be taken April 13. Director Trinity Wheeler was among those made aware Thursday that one of the board members called the theater’s Web master and had him remove the production information from the Web site.

“The goal of ‘The Laramie Project’ is to promote thoughtful discussion and give audiences the opportunity to hear from a wide variety of Laramie residents and those most associated with the murder of Matthew Shepard. The move by these board members to cancel the production is ironic, since it demonstrates the need for the exact kind of education that is provided in the play,” Wheeler said. “I grew up in Tyler and am very excited to bring this production to East Texas. The play examines crimes of hate. The Tyler community experienced a hate crime in 1993 with the murder of Nicholas West, the gay man that was taken from Bergfeld park and shot numerous times. ‘The Laramie Project’ is about a community coming together and healing as a group in the same way Tyler did after the West murder. The James Byrd, Jr. murder in Jasper is another example of senseless hate and a community coming together to heal.”

Even if the Tyler Civil Theatre won’t stage it, Wheeler vowed that the show will go on. He says there’s a lot of excitement about the production, and a week-old Facebook page already has 322 fans.

“On June 17, there will be a production of ‘The Laramie Project’ in Tyler. We are currently regrouping with the cast, staff and Project TAG. I would still like to present this production at Tyler Civic Theatre because this is the theatre where I grew up. With that said, a cancellation decision by the Board of Directors will not stop this production. The opinions of a few people in the community have made cowards of a select number of board members and by withdrawing their unanimous approval of this production they are allowing the opinions of a few to affect the community as a whole. People want this production to happen.”

The Facebook page is encouraging supporters of the play to gather outside the board meeting at 5:30 p.m. next Tuesday and to e-mail their concerns to the theater at info@tylercivictheatre.com.

—  John Wright