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LGBTQ Reflections: From The Grove to The Big Apple

Garrison Gibbons and cast peform ‘The Laramie Project’ in Fulton Chapel, fall of 2013. Photo by Phillip Waller, courtesy of Ole Miss Theatre Department.

By Talbert Toole
Lifestyles Editor

*This is the first feature in a three-part series for Pride month, which is recognized nationally during the month of June. 

The celebration of Pride Month is more than just parades, parties and rainbow flags. It’s a chance for those in the community to garner support expressing their true identity as LGBTQ individuals. 
Although the celebration is filled with glitz and glam throughout the city streets of larger areas like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, it is also a time for some to reflect on the hardships they might have faced in order to embrace the ones they love.
Many LGBTQ members have shown resilience in the face of adversity in the LOU community, they said. For some, finding pride and self expression came at the cost of leaving Oxford, Mississippi and the South. For some, they found solace in the community here.
Feeling Comfortable in His Own Skin
Garrison Gibbons was born in Huntsville, Alabama, grew up in Brandon, Mississippi and  attended Ole Miss from August 2011 to May 2015. As he attended his college orientation, Gibbons finally gripped courage by the reigns and came out as gay to his late mother, an Ole Miss law alumni, in the labyrinth by the student union.
He immediately recognized the look on her face as unconditional love between mother to child. After tears were shed and hugs were given, she told him to always be his authentic self and never apologize for being who he truly is.
During his tenure at the university, Gibbons thrived in the theatre department, surrounding himself with friends and peers who identified as members and allies of the LGBTQ community.
“I felt very safe being queer on-and-off campus,” he said. “Primarily because I surrounded myself with open-minded and progressive people.”
Even though Gibbons surrounded himself with a solid group of friends, he said adversity and hatred still spewed from the Oxford and Ole Miss community. Gibbons recalls being slandered on The Square, at the Oxford Walmart and even in his own car. It eventually lead him to conform to an Ole Miss heteronormative appearance.
“I definitely tried to conform by wearing preppy clothes and bowties in the Grove and carrying my North Face backpack,” he said. “I thought by blending in, I would be safe and get through my day-to-day easier.”
Conformity only sheltered Gibbons from his truth—self-identifying as a gay male. He said since he was newly-open about his sexuality, he was desperately looking for self expression and joy.
“I was craving to express myself through fashion, style and music,” he said. “ Eventually, I was able to come into my own and be seen as my true self. “
Although cloaked in acceptance by the theatre department, Gibbons stared adversity in the face as he performed on stage in Fulton Chapel during ‘The Laramie Project’—a play that reflects on Laramie, Wyoming, in the aftermath of the murder of openly-gay 21-year-old Matthew Shepard—in the fall of 2013.
During his performance, Ole Miss football players ridiculed the cast members and the message of the play from their seats in the audience. Gibbons described the event as a pivotal moment in his life, which allowed him to recognize that hate still existed here.
“It also reminded me the importance of pride, activism and voicing my own queer experiences,” he said.
After his representation of a victim—and becoming one—Gibbons worked vigorously with the university to ensure that the LGBTQ community at Ole Miss had a platform, voice and the attention of school administration.
“I am very proud to have witnessed major growth and development of the LGBTQ+ community at Ole Miss throughout my tenure,” he said.
While attending the university, Gibbons said resources weren’t as widely available as they might be today—OutOxford, Pride Network and Lavender Graduation—to name a few. He felt like there wasn’t a counselor he could openly discuss LGBTQ issues, concerns and questions.
“The same went for healthcare professionals, as I often felt very uncomfortable talking to the university doctors about LGBTQ sex, health concerns and questions,” he said.
If the university provided openly LGBTQ health professionals and counselors, Gibbons believed it would have helped him tremendously in some of his toughest battles at Ole Miss.

From left to right: Wes Owens, Garrison Gibbons, Jay Jurden and Brian Szanny celebrate New York City Pride. Photo courtesy of Jay Jurden.

Gibbons now lives in New York City with his fiancé Jay Jurden, whom he met at Ole Miss. The couple will be celebrating their 7 year anniversary this November. In pursuit of an acting career, Gibbons said the theatre world exists mostly outside of the Magnolia State, which led him to leave his southern roots behind.
He describes himself as a true southerner and Mississippian who has witnessed and experienced the ugliness that can exist in the Bible Belt, but he also knows the true beauty that is the South. But, he said he has always felt “out of place” in Mississippi. 
Although he has moved his roots to the concrete jungle, he is proud to look back at the LOU community and see it thriving with more acceptance, organization and pride.
“I wish I had been able to attend the first Pride parade in Oxford,” he said. “The photos gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes.”
Reflecting back on his experience and life at Ole Miss, Gibbons said he regrets letting the hatred and bigotry get the best of him. It allowed him to lose what he describes as his “fearless and his unapologetic self.”
“Even now, in New York City, it takes me a while to get back to that old, fearless self. I still worry about what straight men think,” he said. “I still worry about what queer people think. I wish I could shake that.”
As Pride Month comes to a close, Gibbons celebrated what he describes as his “queerness” in the streets of New York with Jurden. He said the event—which took place this past weekend—brought tears to his eyes.
“The celebration of queerness is still necessary,” he said. “Our fight for equality is still imperative. Our voices should still be heard.”
Pride is a true celebration for Gibbons. He said he felt ashamed of his identity growing up in Mississippi. After coming out, he said he never had pride, but he was simply trying to survive in a situation where he was too afraid to express his truth.
“Over the last few years, I have found pride in being who I am,” he said. “I have learned to celebrate my queerness, and I find joy in my femininity. I finally feel comfortable in my own skin.”

For information on the resources available to LGBTQ individuals, please contact these local and statewide organizations:
OutOxford aims to provide programming that connects the university and Oxford communities, educate on LGBTQ issues, create opportunities in community service, and advocate for Oxford’s queer community.
UM Pride Network
UM Pride Network is a student organization that provides advocacy and education for individuals in the University and Oxford communities. The organization works to promote acceptance and respect for individuals of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
OUTGrads at the University of Mississippi
OUTGrads promote and foster community and institutional representation for University of Mississippi’s LGBTQIA+ identified graduate and professional students and their allies.
The Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement at Ole Miss
The center works to develop programs and services that support the University of Mississippi’s core value of inclusiveness.
GLAAD—Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change.
HRC—Human Rights Campaign
As the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans, the Human Rights Campaign represents a force of more than 3 million members and supporters nationwide — all committed to making HRC’s vision a reality.

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