Two University of Memphis students said several other students shouted homophobic slurs at them and forcibly removed them at a weekend party.
Luke Chapman, an international student from the United Kingdom, posted on Facebook about the incident shortly after it took place.
“If you all really want to know what it’s like being gay in the South of America, it’s awful,” Chapman said in the post. “It really is fully of hatred and pure homophobia, people at home may be perceived as bad but here everyone is truly dead set against you.”
He was invited to a “keg party” at an off-campus house after a friend posted a screenshot of an advertisement into a group chat with him and several other international students and friends. Chapman said he was told the person who invited him said “all of you [international students] can come, anyone is welcome.”
He and Memphis-area native Benjamin Buckley, who along with Chapman is gay, arrived at the party and paid to enter. The pair was told to leave within 30 minutes of arriving.
“They came up to me three times,” Buckley said. “First, when we were standing near each other, I heard someone yell and then run upstairs…Then this guy came up to me and said, ‘They are shutting the party down. We’ve got to get out.’ And I said OK but no one was leaving.”
The third time someone approached them at the party, the pair along with their friend, was told to leave.
“He was pushing me, and he was trying to escort us out,” Buckley said.
Buckley then approached Chapman, who did not understand what was happening.
“He was like, ‘We need to go. We need to go. We need to go,’” Chapman said. “And I was like, ‘Why? What’s happening?’ I was totally distracted and just got taken out of my bubble that I was in while chatting to somebody…He said, ‘We are being kicked out because we are gay, and they don’t like it.’”
They were pushed out of the house and sat on the doorstep waiting for an Uber. However, the same person who tossed them out of the party also demanded they step off of the porch into the rain.
“We basically just sat on the porch, and he told us to go get in the rain,” Buckley said. “And he had threatened to beat us up before even talking to us.”
Buckley said the student berated them by calling them “faggots” and said to Chapman directly “Go back to Britain, you faggot.” The student threatened to punch the two until a friend stood in-between them.
“He was about to start punching me, and I know better than to fight back especially in these types of situations,” Buckley said. “So, I’m really lucky our friend jumped in. She just blocked him, and he even tried to square up on her. But if she had not done that, this would have been 10 times worse.”
Chapman and Buckley along with their friends were forced to stand in the rain while waiting for their ride.
Growing up here, Buckley said he is used to this kind of treatment. Chapman said while he has had issues in the UK, it isn’t nearly as frequent as here.
“I want to point out that it’s certainly not perfect at home,” Chapman said. “Stuff still happens. Stuff still goes on. I think the key difference here is the concentration of it. There’s just a lot more of it here. I’ve had the odd problem at home walking through a predominantly older town, but here it just appears to be more rife. It’s not the first thing I’ve experienced here, and I’ve been here two months.”
Chapman said this kind of targeted discrimination was completely different from other problems he had.
“This was like something I’ve never experienced before, the idea of somebody specifically removing you from an area because they weren’t comfortable with you being there,” Chapman said. “I’ve had comments before, but never ‘you need to leave this place, because of this.’”
The UofM administration was quick to respond to the incident. University President M. David Rudd responded to the claims in an email sent to all faculty, staff and students around noon Sunday, saying the university is looking into the matter.
“As a reminder, one of our core values is diversity and inclusion,” Rudd said in the email. “The University of Memphis is a community where everyone is respected, included and given the opportunity to excel. This is a value we embrace with conviction.”
Some students have speculated nothing will come of the investigation as it took place off campus. While university administration did not comment directly on these concerns, they deferred to the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
The code states under ‘Institution Policy Statement’ the code itself applies on-campus, university sponsored activity off-campus and “may also apply to off-campus conduct in cases in which it is determined that said conduct constitutes a substantial University interest.” The code goes on to define “substantial university interest” as behavior that endangers any member of the campus community and behavior that impedes the “educational mission and interests” of the university.
The code also lists under ‘Prohibited Conduct’ that “Verbal threats and/or attempts to intimidate, including but not limited to statements meant to provoke conflict with another person or which cause a reasonable fear for a person’s safety.”
Stonewall Tigers, the UofM’s Gay-Straight Alliance, reached out to the two students to support them.
“Stonewall Tigers GSA prides itself on diversity and inclusion, and fighting for the rights of everyone, both inside and outside our community regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation,” said a Stonewall Tigers Facebook post. “We take very seriously any accusations of bigotry, homophobia, or discrimination and do not condone nor excuse anything of the sort. As a university community committed to creating knowledge and understanding, we reject these kinds of ignorance – we look for ways, instead, to demonstrate our shared humanity.”
The group went on to commend the university on quickly starting an investigation and to recommend Safe Zone trainings by the Counseling Center and Office of Multicultural Affairs.