As a Southerner who lives nearby, I find this story pitiful. People who aren’t familiar with the South are well known for broadbrushing the region as a backwoods cohort of hicks with more Little Man Syndrome than good sense, but that’s only partially true. The state of Mississippi, in particular, is well known for coming in dead last or close to it on most measures important to civilized society. Those of us who love the South, though, are ready and willing to point out the many wonderful people and places in the South, and one of those places is Oxford, Misssissippi, home of the University of Mississippi, AKA Ole Miss. It’s a literary town with a vibrant music scene, and of course, the university plays a big role in that.
So it’s sad to see that a bunch of football players decided to heckle and inject “backwoods cohort of hicks” anti-gay hate into the school’s production of “The Laramie Project.” The students apparently attended the play due to the fact that, occasionally, SEC football players are required to go to class, and apparently a play about a gay man who was brutally murdered just made the poor things uncomfortable:
Many members of an audience of mostly Ole Miss students, including an estimated 20 Ole Miss football players, openly disrespected and disrupted the Ole Miss theater department’s production of “The Laramie Project” Tuesday night at the Meek Auditorium.
Cast members of the play, which is about an openly gay male who was murdered in Laramie County in Wyoming, said members of the audience became so disruptive at times that they struggled completing the play.
According to the play’s director and theater faculty member Rory Ledbetter, some audience members used derogatory slurs like “fag” and heckled both cast members and the characters they were portraying for their body types and sexual orientations. Ledbetter said the audience’s reactions included “borderline hate speech.”
“I am the only gay person on the cast,” junior theater major Garrison Gibbons said. “I played a gay character in the show, and to be ridiculed like that was something that really made me realize that some people at Ole Miss and in Mississippi still can’t accept me for who I am.”
According to several accounts, the football players attended the play because they are enrolled in a freshman-level theater course that requires the students to attend a specific number of plays throughout the semester.
“The football players were asked by the athletics department to apologize to the cast,” Ole Miss Theatre Department Chair Rene Pulliam said. “However, I’m not sure the players truly understood what they were apologizing for.”
The director added that the incident served as a real life demonstration of the play’s subject matter:
“It’s ironic in a way. In (“The Laramie Project’) we address these topics of hate against homosexuals,” Ledbetter said. “What happened in the audience (Tuesday night) was the very thing we were trying to portray in the show. (The incident) suggests we have a long way to go.”
As I said, I find the incident pitiful. The director is correct when he says that Ole Miss, and many other places, still have a long way to go, but I can safely say that those football players’ behavior is far below the standards of the absolutely lovely town in which they currently reside. Hopefully there are a few players on the team who can help their remedial teammates understand why in the year 2013, even in Mississippi, homophobes are viewed as idiots by anyone with a modicum of intelligence and Southern decorum.
Bless their hearts.