Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Gays for Ole Miss

By John D. Sutter, CNN
October 4, 2013 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
John Sutter says gay Americans should root for Ole Miss this weekend, despite slurs football players reportedly yelled at actors.
John Sutter says gay Americans should root for Ole Miss this weekend, despite slurs football players reportedly yelled at actors.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 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

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- 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.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

"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.

Related: The county where no one's gay

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.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT