- Ole Miss football players reportedly heckle a performance of "The Laramie Project"
- John Sutter: It would be nice if we could laugh at such stupidity; but we can't yet
- The solution is to give the football players a chance to change, Sutter says
- Sutter: One way to do that is by supporting Ole Miss and its team
When will homophobia in the United States start seeming so ridiculous it's laughable?
Not in 2013, it seems.
Certainly not this week.
On Thursday, the governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, grinned as he compared, in a television interview, same-sex marriage to a brother marrying his sister.
"I apologize to anybody who feels offended by that," he said later.
Feels offended? Please. That's offensive.
Worse, football players and other students from Ole Miss reportedly heckled a Tuesday night performance of "The Laramie Project," a play about a gay college student, Matthew Shepard, who was tortured and murdered in 1998. They yelled anti-gay slurs, including the three-letter f-bomb, the play's director told the university newspaper.
"This behavior by some students reflects poorly on all of us, and it reinforces our commitment to teaching inclusivity and civility to young people who still have much to learn," two university officials said in a prepared statement.
Homophobes and the football teams that harbor them understand they should apologize.
Maybe that should be seen as an improvement.
But it doesn't seem genuine to me.
These apologies are designed to placate the gay community, not embrace it.
The comments themselves are reduced to the realm of political gaffes instead of being seen for what they are, which is hate speech that contributes to gay kids committing suicide and to parents rejecting kids who come out to them as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
So, how to respond?
One route has been taken by writers like Edward Aschoff at ESPN and Greg Couch at FOX Sports. They've called for Ole Miss to find and suspend the football players who yelled the slurs.
Another way to react -- the one I'd prefer -- would be to laugh these inane remarks off because they're so isolated and aren't indicative of attitudes in modern America.
But that's clearly not the case yet. I spent two weeks in Mississippi earlier this year talking to LGBT people, both closeted and open. The state is hostile to them. Celebrate same-sex marriage in California all you want, but in Mississippi, and in many other states, gay people not only can't get married, but they also can be fired by their employers, evicted by landlords and denied the right to adopt children simply because of their sexual orientation.
These comments aren't random or isolated.
They come from a place of deep-seated ignorance about homosexuality and gay people that leads both to hateful slurs and backward legal arguments.
Silencing those voices won't do the trick.
They need to be won over.
The university is taking a smart step by requiring all students who attended the play on Tuesday night to participate in a "dialogue session" about the hate speech.
But I'll also propose a symbolic response: Root for Ole Miss.
If you're going to their game versus Auburn at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, or to other games this season, wear something to indicate your support for the LGBT rights movement. If you're staying home, tweet a photo or put it on Instagram with the hashtag #gaysforolemiss. Or, if that feels weirdly new-media-for-the-sake-of-it, just tell a friend that you hope Ole Miss wins the game.
(Dear Auburn fans: I don't hate you. Please don't e-mail me.)
One problem I encountered in Mississippi is that LGBT people are largely invisible. They can be out and open about who they are, but their friends and neighbors are comfortable ignoring them, pretending they don't exist, or pretending that's not who they are.
The antidote: Be seen. And give people a chance to change. Show the football players that Gay America is on their side -- that we want to see them succeed.
And if you can't do it for them, do it for Garrison Gibbons, who told the Daily Mississippian about what it was like to be the only openly gay member of the heckled cast.
"... [T]o 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."
If you're in Mississippi, prove him wrong.
If not, show him you've got his back.