Since its creation, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have provided a safe space for Black students to learn, excel and be free to be themselves.
In a world that often rejects those deemed “other,” at an HCBU, minorities are finally given the chance to be the majority—but what about those of double minority, identifying as both a racial and sexual minority? Considering HBCUs’ roots and founding in the Black church and the prevalent homophobia within the Black community, students belonging to the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, and more) community may not experience the same support as their cishet peers.
LGBTQIA+ students at many HBCUs have created a safe space within a safe space, with the establishment of queer-friendly and allyship organizations on campus. For instance, Hampton University’s M.O.S.A.I.C (Motivating Open-Minded Social Acceptance and Inspiring Change) was founded in 2016 to be a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and allies to come together and promote acceptance, tolerance, and awareness of sexual orientation and gender identity. Group member, Katelynn Flowers, a junior entrepreneur major says progress has been made, but there’s still a ways to go.
“My experience at Hampton being pansexual has been pretty good so far,” Flowers said. “I don’t feel as though I’m left out or discriminated against, however, we definitely have a long way to go when it comes to getting everyone, including administration on board with new societal norms. We have a very traditional approach to life at Hampton and it’s time to change that.”
Morehouse College alum, Jauan Durbin, who served as the first openly queer Mr. HBCU, said most queer students at HBCUs don’t get to publicly live in their truth while serving in high leadership roles.
When talking about his experience as the first openly queer Mr. HBCU at Morehouse, he recalled a lack of acknowledgment of his history-making feat by colleagues and administrators. “It was disheartening because HBCU kings are uplifted by our HBCUs as the male representation of the institution, [and it] often celebrates hyper-masculinity,” he remarked.
“[College] was the first time that I was actually able to express myself in terms of how I dressed, appeared, and showed up in the world,” Durbin continued. “I started dabbling in makeup. I never had a battle with my gender expression or identity getting in the way until that moment. “We have to understand people come into our HBCUs with 18 years of life experience. We have to create an environment where we are not allowing harmful ideology to penetrate our walls. Getting people from a place of tolerance to acceptance means creating safe spaces on our campus.”
Mark Davis Jr., a Tennessee State University (TSU) alum and the 31st Mister TSU had a more welcoming experience as a queer HBCU king, detailing his experience as a queer person at an HBCU as a “great” one.
Showing up unapologetically as himself, Davis centered his Mister TSU platform around pride with the goal of creating space for everyone, especially those of the LGBTQIA+ community. Along with TSU’s Mister Sophomore at the time, Davis & hosted the first Pride N Sip, an event where participants were invited to come and paint what pride looks like to them. “Immediately we got an overwhelming amount of support from students, alumni, the HBCU world, and the administration. At the close of my reign, It meant a lot knowing that this was one of my highlights as King, being that voice to make sure the LGBTQIA + was heard. I always felt accepted and welcome because I surrounded myself around people who accepted me for who I was.”
“I ALWAYS TOLD MYSELF I WOULD NEVER JOIN SOMETHING OR ATTACH MYSELF TO ANYTHING WHERE I WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED FOR BEING 100% ME. YOU WILL TAKE ALL OF ME FOR WHO I AM OR YOU WILL GET NONE OF ME AT ALL.”– Tennessee State University alum and the 31st Mister TSU, Mark Davis Jr. on his reign as a queer Mr. HBCU.
Throughout history, queer people have fought for equality, visibility, and social acceptance in society, and some HBCUs have made strides to become more supportive and accepting of the community.
Howard University is the only HBCU to offer gender-inclusive housing, according to CampusPride. In 2017, Spelman College adopted a policy that allows transgender students to enroll in the all women’s university. Two years later, its brother school, Morehouse College followed suit, voting to adopt the same policy and admit transgender men into the university.
This is a progressive step for Morehouse as it wasn’t that long ago that a junior was beaten with a baseball bat by another student, in what was seen as an anti-gay attack in 2002, and the dress code previously banned students from wearing women’s clothing.
Additionally, according to TVOne, Morehouse students can now participate in the annual Festival of Eccentrics, “a queer-centric dance show hosted by Atlanta HBCUs.” The school also recently hosted its first-ever ball, celebrating “Queer Black Excellence.”
In another first, Last October, Hampton University football player Byron Perkins made history by becoming the first football player at an HBCU to come out as gay.
He made the announcement in a social media post that went viral and expressed that he wanted to be an inspiration for other Black gay men to feel comfortable sharing their truth.
Perkins recently shared with ESPN SportsCenter that his relationship with his teammates remains strong and focused on their shared goal of competing at a high level in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“These are the guys I go to war with, and for them to say, ‘We’ve known him since day one, we know his character and his work ethic,’ that in itself has been one of the most precious things in the world to me,” he said, adding that building chemistry with the Pirates has been key.
Although there have been some improvements when it comes to inclusion and support for queer students at HBCUs, there is still much more progress that needs to be made according to students.
Flowers suggests that HBCUs incorporate more gender-neutral settings, like “gender fluid dorms, bathrooms, and activities.”
Davis says that HBCU institutions need to take into account how they are showing up for LGBTQIA+ students. He said the leaders of the institutions need to ask themselves questions like, “How is the living situations for them in residence halls? do they feel like they have resources on campus regarding transitioning, health services, and safe places?” —“There should be training or initiatives to integrate LGBTQIA + students within the culture of our institutions,” Davis concluded.