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In case you haven't seen the news about how students at Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi) recently behaved at a performance of the Laramie Project, then I point you to this article:

"The Laramie Project" got a less-than-enthusiastic reception from student audiences at the University of Mississippi.

As the The Daily Mississippian reports, a group of students -- including an estimated 20 Ole Miss football players -- disrupted the university theater department's Oct. 1 performance of "Laramie," which is based on the 1998 murder of gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.

Director Rory Ledbetter said some members of the audience hurled anti-gay slurs like "fag" at cast members, and described the audience's reactions as "borderline hate speech."

Theater student Garrison Gibbons, who said he was the only openly gay member of the cast, noted, "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.”

Added Rachel Staton, another theater major: “That was by far the worst audience I’ve ever performed in front of ... If I can go support and respect the football team in their stadium, I feel like they should be able to support and respect me and my fellow cast members when we are doing a show.

The University is investigating the incident, releasing a statement that says in part:
While we work to determine with certainty who disrupted the Laramie Project play, we want everyone within our university community and beyond to know that we strongly condemn the behavior exhibited Tuesday night. As a member of the Ole Miss family, each of us has a responsibility to be accountable for our actions, and these individuals will be held accountable. Our investigation will determine the degree to which any and all students were involved.


On behalf of our 22,000 students, our faculty, and our staff, we apologize.

I myself happen to be an alumnus of this University.  I was there when Matthew Shepard was killed and attended the candlelight vigil on campus for him. I was also the president of what was then the on-campus gay student organization for several years afterwards. This is my Letter to the Editor response to the incident:
Dear Editor,

In 1998, the news of Matthew Shepard’s murder struck like a bolt of lightning among LGBT people across the country, including those of us who were UM students at the time. The story of such a young guy being beaten and then crucified on a fencepost in Wyoming resonated, and Shepard died around National Coming Out Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the LGBT March on Washington on Oct. 11, 1988, where LGBT Americans united against this nation’s apathetic AIDS response. Similarly, Shepard’s murder during the 10-year anniversary galvanized us to combat hate-based violence and harassment, particularly against LGBT youth. Given the context, it’s no wonder Shepard became a martyr.

So, I worry that many fail to grasp the depth of this recent insult. Students’ shouting gay epithets at a recent production of The Laramie Project is as disrespectful as going to a church’s Passion play during Lent and shouting anti-Christian blasphemy, as insulting as screaming racial slurs during Black History Month at a play about the death of James Byrd, Jr. Thus, I hope UM officials are treating this incident with the seriousness it warrants. To start, Dennis and Judy Shepard deserve a personal apology, as they did not deserve this on the 15th anniversary of their son’s murder.

The University should also understand that it has a continuing need to combat such ignorance. Along with preventing future embarrassments, the University must foster an atmosphere of safety for its LGBT students—including those in its athletics programs. Ultimately, if students haven’t learned to interact civilly with LGBT people, then they simply aren’t equipped for success in the world they face upon graduation. So, I hope the University, as institution and community, will use this moment to reflect and ensure it is making every effort to proactively address these issues.

My Philosophy
Class of 2002

It was far longer, believe me, but the paper has a 300-word limit on letter submissions.

Originally posted to My Philosophy on Fri Oct 04, 2013 at 07:34 PM PDT.

Also republished by Angry Gays, Milk Men And Women, LGBT Kos Community, Remembering LGBT History, and Bending the Buzz.

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