Are HBCUs Ready For Gay History?
Morehouse, the all-male historically black college, to offer LGBT course
College campuses are thought to be home to the best minds that America has to offer. During the college years, people often experience what it's like to be on their own for the first time, developing and nurturing their own opinions and preparing themselves, new worldview intact, to go out into the "real world" and make a difference.
It's also a time where many begin to come into themselves as individuals, learning about their personality and sexuality.
While many college campuses, the more open-minded ones at least, have student groups catering to people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, it's not every day that you hear about schools offering actual courses focused on the LGBT community, especially not at HBCUs -- historically black colleges and universities. Next year, that's about to change.
The course is expected to outline various key concepts in Black feminism and critical cultural theory and methodology. Described as “an interdisciplinary survey of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) culture and politics” in the course’s syllabus, the class will serve as an in-depth look into critical, social and cultural theory that will vastly benefit the Morehouse community.
If there ever were an HBCU campus to offer such a course, it would be Morehouse. The historic HBCU has been widely seen in the black community as a bastion for black manhood, producing such "Morehouse Men" as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maynard Jackson, Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson. The school, like the rest of U.S. society, has long had a gay community, but in recent years Morehouse has seen a number of clashes -- primarily social or cultural, but sometimes resulting in physical violence -- involving the school's openly gay population.
In 2002, Gregory Love, a gay Morehouse student, was beaten with a baseball bat after he mistakenly walked into a shower occupied by Aaron Price. Price was sentenced to 10 years in prison. At the time of the attack, LGBT students said the school wasn't doing enough to spread a message of tolerance.
Six years later, the school sent a message to the LGBT community, but it wasn't one that many wanted to hear. The school crafted an "Appropriate Attire Policy," which banned the typical wearing of hats in buildings, sunglasses in class, pajamas in public, do-rags, sagging pants and walking barefoot on campus. But it was the section of the policy that ruled out cross-dressing that had some students saying they were being singled out and attacked.
A group of cross-dressing gay Morehouse students whom the policy was thought to target was featured in a 2010 "VIBE" magazine article titled "The Mean Girls of Morehouse." The story chronicled the students' struggles for acceptance, which more often than not led them to transfer to another school.
“I wanted to go to an HBCU,” former Morehouse student "Diamond" told "VIBE." “I wanted the whole African American experience. I thought it would be a beautiful thing.”
In an attempt to create dialogue on HBCU campuses around LGBT issues, Morehouse's sister school, Spelman College, in 2011 launched the “Facilitating Campus Climates of Pluralism, Inclusivity, and Progressive Change at HBCUs" conference. Participating schools included Bennett College of Women, Howard University, Clark Atlanta University, Southern University, North Carolina Central University, Philander Smith College, Morehouse College and Morgan State University, each of which had active LGBT student organizations.
One year later, it appears the dialogue may have struck a cord as HBCUs appear to be opening up more when it comes to LGBT issues.
"The inclusion of a Black LGBTQ course is monumental for Morehouse," Marcus Lee, special project and events coordinator of the Morehouse student advocacy group SafeSpace, told Loop 21 in an email. "SafeSpace is ecstatic to finally lock arms with Morehouse faculty so that we may all respond more appropriately to diversity on campus. Our hope is that the success of this class will result in a ripple effect as other HBCUs, and all other institutions of higher learning for that matter, better understand the merit of ensuring that the LGBTQ community is included in academic studies."
In addition to Morehouse's upcoming efforts, Bowie State in Maryland in April opened a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexed and Allies Resource Center.
"A physical space is very important because, I mean there are books about gay, lesbian literature, I guess, in the library but not as much," Professor Adrian Krishnasamy, director of the LGBTQIA Resource Center, said in an interview with NPR. "We are just there to basically be representatives of that culture to say 'Hey, you know, it's OK.' And to kind of say, 'I can identify with this person, you know, how did you come out?' Sort of sitting in that space and sort of sharing that, I think, that is the biggest experience of it."
While homosexuality is still somewhat considered "taboo" in the black community, with a recent poll showing blacks are the most opposed to gay marriage of any racial or ethnic group, studies also show that African-Americans have the highest number of gays and lesbians. With such polarizing statistics, it's obvious that somebody isn't talking to each other.