Recently, Campuspride.org released their yearly shame list for the worst campuses for GLBT youth. As expected, many, if not most of the colleges and universities listed had some form of religious affiliation and made the list due to their holding of an exemption to Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity operated by a recipient of Federal financial assistance. This should come as no surprise because these institutions are basically extensions of their churches, which also have numerous exemptions under the law, including paying taxes.
To be fair and balanced, we are not sure what you would expect if you enroll in a university with “BIBLE” in the name. These schools are littered across the nation, with their views on full display but there are always people shocked and appalled that they behave in the manner they told you they would.
But, don’t let this list fool you. Homophobia is present on each and every campus all across the nation and even the world. Discrimination of the other is human nature and no law or policy is going to automatically change the behavior of one who wishes to be a dick about your sexual orientation, gender or race. Even the most liberal institutions have been sued for homophobia, racial and gender discrimination.
Our issue with this list is that not only did it not discuss the greater issues of homophobia on college campuses across the nation, it gave a pass to liberal arts schools and totally neglected Historically Black Universities (HBUs). Not all gay people are white and not all gay males of colour wish to attend predominately white institutions. Intersectionality is a major concern for them and choosing where to obtain a degree does not just include concerns about homophobia; racism usually trumps that card.
Last July The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), of all organizations, decided to address this issue by inviting 50 of the larger, more metropolitan HBUs, out of the just over 100 in existence. These colleges and universities have bigger student populations, but also are located in conservative-leaning states with perhaps unfriendly laws toward the LGBTQ community. Sadly, only sixteen representatives bothered to attend. Though their institutions, to some degree, have adopted pro-LGBTQ initiatives, which is why they were asked to Washington, they said continuing to do more is critical. Those historically black colleges not invited hadn’t pushed much for their gay students, participants said. Notably, this was the first ever HBCU conference organized by HRC.
Just like it should not surprise you that religious affiliated colleges and university have major issues accepting gays and are bastions of homophobia, it should also not come as a shock that HBUs, crafted with the same religious values in mind, which can also be segregated by gender, have issues with masculinity on campus, exhibited as a form of homophobia.
Quick history lesson on men of colour and culture: Slavery, (yes, almost every damn American thing begins there. Deal with!) reduced men of colour to the value of live stock. They were judged and evaluated purely on their physical strength, ability to sire children and over all health (strong Black Buck, Mandingo). The general notions and full range of masculinity were denied them. They could not hold paying jobs, buy a home, support their families, defend themselves or their loved ones and they lacked any freedom of autonomy or movement. In essence and by law, they were not men. Period. For far too many, life as a Black man is still this way.
HBUs were created because people of colour could not legally attend white universities. The first ones were all male and made great strides in healing the children of slaves and instilling within them a sense of purpose and drive as well as a complete education. This included high cultural standards and a design of masculinity based on the religions that were forced upon them as slaves. The most famous of these institutions is Morehouse College.
This private, all-male, liberal arts, historically African American college is located in Atlanta, Georgia. Morehouse is one of the few remaining traditional men’s liberal arts colleges in the United States.
The college is the largest men’s college in the United States with an enrollment over 2,000 students. The student-faculty ratio is 13:1. Along with Clark Atlanta University, Interdenominational Theological Center, Morehouse School of Medicine and nearby women’s college Spelman College, Morehouse is part of the Atlanta University Center. In 1881, both Morehouse and Spelman students were studying in the basement of Atlanta’s Friendship Baptist Church. Morehouse is one of two historically African American colleges in the country to produce Rhodes Scholars, and it is the alma mater of many African American community and civil leaders.
So, why does Morehouse make our list, even though they arguably produce some of the best minds of men of colour (and some of the finest physically too)? The college, which has at times taken a don’t ask, don’t tell, approach to homosexuality, also has a reputation for being a difficult place to be gay. In 2002 there was a major gay bashing incident, in 2009, they implemented a dress code, which among other things, forbid the wearing of female clothing, in 2011, the school had to fire a long time employee after she used company email to post a homophobic rant about gay black male couples getting married, and 2014 the football team faced backlash after homophobic chants at a screening of Dear White People, during the scenes with the gay male character.
To its credit, these types of incidents, unfortunately, happen on every campus around the country, and Morehouse has created Safe Space, the school’s gay, bisexual transgender, and queer (GBTQ) organization to help address these issues. In 2013 spring semester, Morehouse’s sociology department began offering a course about the Black LGBTQ community taught by Dr. Jafari Allen, a Morehouse alumnus and professor at Yale University, called “A Genealogy of Black LGBT Culture and Politics”, but best of all the college has come a long way from the 1980’s and 1990’s “when it was more dangerous to be openly GBTQ on Morehouse’s campus than it was on the streets in gang-ridden black neighborhoods”. Throughout the 1990’s Morehouse was listed on the Princeton Review’s top 20 homophobic campuses. But they, still have a way to go.
We are not trying to single out Morehouse or any HBU, for that matter. But Morehouse prides itself on being a leader within communities of colour. Since its inception in 1867 Morehouse College is noted as the bastion of black male leadership and masculinity. To this day, the college continues to confer degrees on more men of African descent than any institution of higher education in this country. W. E.B. Dubois’s theory of The Talented Tenth, where “exceptional black men” would be the ones to lead the race, Morehouse College has unquestionably produced a pantheon of noted black men; its most famous alumnus Martin Luther King, Jr., graduated from Morehouse in 1948. He also had major issues with gay men (See: Baynard Rustin).
If Morehouse is going to lead, like all colleges and universities, it needs to do so by example. And this begins with creating a safe learning environment for the current and next generation of gay males of colour. Masculinity and leadership are not driven down one road. And who is to say that gay males of colour cannot and will not strive for and achieve the social and cultural levels of masculinity, including education, pride and community support, that their straight brothers desire? Just as (gay) white people need to address their issues with (gay) men of colour, so do the institutions created by people of colour, for people of colour.
Stop erasing Gay Men of Colour!
- LGBTQ students at HBCUs often seek more mental health resources in the guidance centers
- frequently requests for funding for queer student groups are rejected
- About 30 percent of HBCUs have LGBTQ clubs affiliated with the universities, and
- only three have designated a full-time position for support of LGBTQ students — Bowie State University, Fayetteville State University and North Carolina Central University
Tags: college, HBU, historically black colleges, homophobia, Morehouse