Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Fitting In: LGBTQ Students Are Slowly but Decisively Finding Inclusion at HBCUs

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Fitting In: LGBTQ Students Are Slowly but Decisively Finding Inclusion at HBCUs

Article excerpt

Although much of the progress has been student led, an increasing number of HBCU institutions are developing safe spaces and welcoming environments for LGBTQ students.

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"The evolution of the environment and support systems at Morgan State University (MSU) reflects the trajectory of the nation's attitudes and policies regarding LGBTQ communities as we move away from invisibility and intolerance toward equity and empowerment" says Dr. Anika Simpson, an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies and coordinator of the Women and Gender Studies Program at MSU.

"We aim to serve as a public role model and thought partner for academic institutions seeking to address the specific needs of their Black LGBTQ students."

In 2013, MSU's president, Dr. David Wilson, created an LGBTQA Advisory Council, which serves as a vehicle for institutional change. It reflects a commitment to inclusion that extends to senior administration, students, staff and faculty.

Although discrimination, homophobia and transphobia still exist in the United States, it is a time in history where more and more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning individuals and their allies are calling for respect and inclusion. Many of the nations more than 100 HBCU institutions have been slow to create safe spaces and support systems, but change finally appears to be at hand.

External support

In 2001, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nations largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, convened a group of HBCU student leaders committed to advocating for inclusion and social justice on campuses. This led to the formation of the HBCU Project, which provides support to students, faculty and staff who wish to improve campus environments. There is an annual HBCU summit and training available for those committed to creating supportive and safe environments for all people.

Leslie Hall, manager of the HRC's HBCU Project, says significant progress has been made on matters of inclusion and safety, but many campuses still lack basic support for LGBTQ students.

"While overall physical violence towards LGBTQ students is down significantly in recent years, LGBTQ students continue to fight systemic bigotry and discrimination perpetuated by outdated policies and uninformed administrators," says Hall. "Some of the prevalent issues include the lack of nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity, lack of LGBTQ health services and lack of LGBTQ safe spaces and official campus organizations."

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Students who participate in HRC's HBCU Project learn how to build student groups on campus and facilitate events. They also learn how to lobby administration for policy changes, which brings about broader impact.

In May, Many Voices, a Black church movement for LGBTQ justice, launched a video campaign in partnership with MSU. Titled My God Too: Black LGBTQ Students Speak OUT, the video features interviews with 10 MSU students, LGBTQ and allies, who share their personal stories.

"College is a personal, professional and socially formative aspect for many Black LGBTQ people," says the Rev. Cedric Harmon, executive director of Many Voices. "Our student interviewees are head over heels about the video and proud of their voices being lifted up in this way.

"People who attended the MSU premiere screening were effusive with their thanks and gratitude for the video being produced," he adds. "They told us that, 'We need these conversations on HBCU campuses,' and they hope it will spread."

The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black LGBTQ people, launched its HBCU LGBTQ-Equality Initiative in 2011 with the goal of promoting safe, welcoming and affirming campus environments. This spring NBJC sent staff members on a five-state and District of Columbia HBCU tour to discuss health and wellness as well as cultural competency. …

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