Many historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) have not been especially welcoming to openly LGBT students. Only a handful of HBCUs recognize LGBT student groups. In some cases, the colleges outright prevent gay students from forming groups. The plight of LGBT youth on HBCU campuses becomes all the more critical in the wake of recent news stories, such as violent attacks against gay students At Morehouse College and its controversial new dress code.
An all-day summit on Friday at Atlanta's Spelman College opened a dialogue on LGBT issues. The conference was the first of its kind for HBCUs. Participants from nine HBCUs attended several panel discussions on campus about LGBT issues, reports BET.com.
Black colleges as a whole have been slower to take on this public dialogue on lesbian and gay issues for a few reasons. "Some [schools] were founded with religious affiliation," Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the founding director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center at Spelman explained. In addition, the relative silence on the issue seems to mirror the Black community’s attitude as a whole. "Black colleges are not different from African-American communities in general."
Guy-Sheftall says she’s seen other campuses have issues surrounding dress code. “But the biggest issue we’re facing on our campuses is [the lack of] open public dialogue,” she said. The suicide last year by a gay Rutgers University student, who jumped off a bridge last September after his sexual encounter with another man was streamed live unbeknownst to him, made the project more urgent, she continued, and the hope is to tackle intolerance on HBCU campuses, before it reaches that point.
In addition to Spelman, the other participating colleges included Bennett College of Women, Clark Atlanta University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, North Carolina Central University, Philander Smith College and Southern University.
The Human Rights Campaign's Deputy Director for Diversity Donna Payne paneled a session on LGBT organizing with National Black Justice Coalition CEO Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks. "I was satisfied with the turnout. About 115 people attended," Payne tells Rod 2.0. "However, I was not satisfied with the lack of participation from HBCU presidents. There was only one President there—Spelman President Beverly Daniel Tatum."
"Anthony Pinder, a gay HBCU alumnus, documented stories of 28 male HBCU alumni and the cost of hiding their true identity. The president of Spelman College, Dr. Beverly D. Tatum, was on the Administrators’ panel—originally the "Presidents’" panel. Dr. Tatum pointed out that the panel had to be renamed because other presidents declined to participate. National Black Justice Coalition Executive Director Sharon Lettman-Hicks spoke about her discussion with 12 presidents in 2010. Shockingly, one president told her he believed he didn’t have any gay students!"
Spelman College has taken the lead in addressing LGBT issues among HBCUs. Not so much at neighboring all-male Morehouse College. The 142-year-old college has boasted a thriving yet mostly closeted Black gay subculture. Morehouse has seen several well-publicized cases of homophobia, harassment and anti-gay violence in recent years. In May 2010, three gay students were carjacked, kidnapped, robbed at gunpoint and called "faggots." In October 2009, a controversial dress code was enacted that banned womens' attire, accessories or makeup. The code was endorsed by the campus' sole gay student group.
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