Still considered a taboo subject on many Black college campuses, a summit taking place Friday at Atlanta HBCU Spelman College seeks to open the dialogue on gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender issues.
The conference, titled “Facilitating Campus Climates of Pluralism, Inclusivity, and Progressive Change at HBCUs,” is the first of its kind. Participants came from nine HBCUs to attend several panel discussions throughout the day on campus about LGBT communities and ways to create a more open climate at school for those who have alternative lifestyles.
“We hope that [the summit] will provide some leadership for HBCUs to address LGBT issues as it relates to students, faculty and staff,” said Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the founding director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center at Spelman. “We think that the public awareness will put the issue on the radar.”
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,” Guy-Sheftall 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.”
One recent issue related to LGBT issues on HBCU campuses stands out. In 2009, Morehouse College, one of the summit participants, established a controversial dress code, which banned students at the all-male institution from wearing clothing “associated with women’s garb (dresses, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.)” on the campus.
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.
Besides Spelman, the other participating colleges include: Bennett College of Women, Howard University, Clark Atlanta University, Southern University, North Carolina Central University, Philander Smith College, Morehouse College and Morgan State University. Organizers chose schools that ranged in size, region and had active LGBT student organizations on their campuses. Every HBCU will receive a 300-page packet of recommendations following the summit promoting course offerings, staff training and campus activities.
The summit was funded by a grant Spelman received three years ago from the Arcus Foundation, a group that works in part to advance LGBT equality. The grant runs out this year, but the school hopes to continue similar projects through partnerships with the United Negro College Fund and the Human Rights Campaign.
(Photo: REUTERS/Bruno Domingos/Landov)