Post submitted by Garrison Gibbons, a junior BFA Acting Major at University of Mississippi.
As a gay student of University of Mississippi, the actions last week during a production of The Laramie Project personally struck a chord with me.
The Laramie Project discusses the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a 20-year-old gay college student whose life was brutally snuffed out by an act of anti-LGBT hatred. LGBT rights and equality are the new hurdle America is battling to overcome, and the student body's reaction to our show serve as a reminder of the work that still lives ahead.
The audience started out that night like any other student audience at Ole Miss: Cellphones and talking were noticeable but nothing too out of hand.After the first intermission, the mood shifted. Soon, the audience was mocking the most potent and serious portions of the performance. Some of the audience members began to laugh and mock the actors.
As one of the only openly gay actors in the show, I felt every time I entered that I was being laughed. In one of my monologues my character says, "I'm 52 years old and I am gay" and pauses. In that pause, I felt so much judgment. Towards the end of my monologue, I realized some of the audience members were using their iPhones to photograph me on stage with flash.
As the show continued, the heckling increased, with comments about the other performers, and laughter at some of the hateful, anti-LGBT lines the character Aaron McKiney, the murderer, delivers.
It would be easy to characterize what happened last week as the fault of just 20 to 30 football team members, but that would be unfair. This wasn’t a football team against a theater department. There were others in attendance that responded in kind.
Let us instead use last week’s as reminder of why we chose this show and why it -- and shows like it – are important. We need a better understanding of the true state of equality. Mississippi, where even the most basic protections of the law are still out of reach, still lags behind in the LGBT movement.
I am proud to be a part of The Laramie Project, and hope this show can open the minds of even a few. I hope one day to be able to be my authentic self, open, and without fear of judgment. I hope one day that dream can become reality.