OXFORD, MS -- Ole Miss school leaders are investigating after 20 football players were accused of yelling gay slurs during a student play about a college student who was murdered because he was homosexual.
"In the moment, it was the worse thing I ever experienced," said Garrison Gibbons, a 20-year-old Ole Miss student who plays Mathew Shepard in "The Laramie Project." Shepard was a University of Wyoming student who was murdered in 1998.
Garrison, who is openly gay, says he now feels threatened on campus.
"I am walking around on campus as an openly gay man not knowing that they think this way about me," he said.
Garrison said he first started hearing the slurs during a performance Tuesday night. He says the rest of the cast was traumatized.
"I was shaking so bad, people were crying in the cast, we didn't want to enter the stage because it wasn't that safe place we know and love," he said.
On Thursday, an Ole Miss school spokesman said the university was investigating the matter.
"The university has a bias incident response team that is investigating the reported incident," said Danny Blanton. "They want to make certain they have all the facts of what actually occurred and then they'll make a recommendation to the university on how to move forward."
"We chose this show in the hopes that it would generate dialogue amongst the members of the audience, we didn't necessarily want it to happen in this fashion," said Michael Barnett, who is the Chair of the Faculty Senate, and Assistant Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts.
Barnett said this wasn't the first time the university has dealt with an issue like this.
"We had an incident last year during one of our shows where a member of the audience who was also using homophobic term directed at one of our cast members but we were not able to identify that person," he said. "This is, from what I understand, a larger incident encompassing more people."
"I was there, I sat in the front row, I really didn't hear anything," said Christopher Newman, a junior at Ole Miss.
"It was a bunch of freshman, it was a 3-hour long play, and i just think some of them got antsy, and it got a little loud and some people took it the wrong way," Newman said.
"I didn't see it being that big of a deal," he added.
On Thursday afternoon, Chancellor Dan Jones and Athletic Director Ross Bjork released a joint statement.
"We will meet today with the freshman student-athletes (from various sports) who attended the play and have a dialogue about what happened, about our university-wide commitment to inclusivity and civility, and about the important role they play in representing the university," the statement read. "It is clear that some students badly misrepresented the culture of this university. From there, we will work with Student-Affairs and the Bias Incident Response Team to determine the facts and appropriate next steps."
"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. We will be engaging our student-athletes with leaders on the subject of individuality and tolerance, so we can further enforce life lessons and develop them to their fullest potential," the statement said.
Garrison said members of the football team apologized after the play, but the apology felt hallow.
"It was apparent when the football players apologized they didn't know what they were apologizing for. they didn't," Garrison said. "Many of these people in the audience were our role models for our university, whether they want to be or not, they are role models, and that's not how role models act."
Garrison said he doesn't want the football players punished. He just wants them to support him, just like he supports them on Saturday.
This isn't the first time students at Ole Miss have made headlines. In November, a group of students started rioting after President Obama won re-election.
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