Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hazing at the Laramie Project?

In two days, it will mark 15 years since officer Reggie Fluty found Matthew Shepard tortured, bleeding, hung on a fence in the middle of nowhere and left to die. Tuesday evening, after and during a sensitive performance based on that event and Shepard's own story, a group of Old Miss's athletes decided to yell out "fag" and heckle the actors on the stage.
After being dealt with by the administration, these athletes apologized, but didn't seem to have a clue why they were being called on to apologize in the first place. 
According to the play’s director Rory Ledbetter, audience members used slurs like "fag" and heckled both cast members and characters they were portraying for their body types and sexual orientations. Ledbetter  later stated that the audience’s reactions included "borderline hate speech."
From USA Today: University of Mississippi officials apologized Thursday for the behavior of a group of athletes among an audience of the play, The Laramie Project.  These freshmen used gay slurs and other disparaging comments to verbally harass performers during the production.
Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones and Athletics Director Ross Bjork issued a joint statement pledging and investigation of the incident, and plans to work with the response team to address the matter.
"It is clear that some students badly misrepresented the culture of this university," they said in their statement.
The play is based on the murder of Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who was killed in 1998 due to his homosexual orientation.
In a statement Friday, the response team said, "The task of identifying specific individuals who were purported to have disrupted the performance is difficult because of the dark theatre, and initial reports vary in regard to the frequency, volume and source of the comments or disruption.
Garrison Gibbons, a 20-year-old acting major who was in the play, told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday that the atmosphere at Tuesday's performance was "radically different" from other performances and that actors had heard gay slurs from the audience and laughter at moments in the play that weren't intended to be funny, including a funeral scene.
"They were laughing at lines that spoke in negative ways about gay people," Gibbons said.
Gibbons added that he felt "an incredible amount of judgment and laughter" while delivering a monologue in the play in which his character comes out as gay, including audience members taking pictures of him with their iPhones, which he said "appalled" him. He said the cast was later told after the play's second act that the football players and other athletes in the audience were going to apologize after the show.
Gibbons said he did not want athletes to be suspended for games but rather to learn lessons and help create a better atmosphere for gay students on campus.
Michael Barnett, assistant chair of theater arts at the school and also chair of the Ole Miss faculty senate, told USA Today that a house manager identified the group as athletes:
 "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 football players’ apology was given by one undisclosed football player on behalf of the entire group.
The whole thing is massively depressing when you take the context of what these kids were yelling out and what The Laramie Project is.  Incidents like this one make us question Shepard's legacy and whether we have done enough to make sure that no one forgets what this young man went through before and as he died.

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