Morehouse Offers LGBTQ Course: A Student's Perspective

The psychic distance between tolerance and acceptance is congruent to the emotional difference between a bleak handshake and a brotherly hug... Tolerance is not enough, and there is no room for neutrality.
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The beauty of the Black LGBTQ community lies in its resilience. The storm that is created as racism, sexism and hetero-patriarchy collide constantly threatens to suffocate our voices and deprive society of our visibility. However, emulating the might and audacity of people like Bruce Nugent, Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill and Lucy Hicks Anderson, we weather the storm and arise from it stronger and wiser than ever before. Blessed with unique bodies, bold personalities and immense potential, we are here -- we always have been and we always will be. Black LGBTQ communities on Historically Black College and University campuses are no different: We weather the storm, we maintain our presence and we mature. We are here.

In 2002, a Morehouse student by the name of Gregory Love was beaten with a baseball bat after being perceived as gay by another student. Seven years later, Morehouse announced the installation of a dress code policy which, in part, outlawed "clothing associated with women's garb" -- effectively pairing gender nonconformity with unpreparedness or a lack of professionalism. Both of these incidents demonstrated the need for serious and scholarly discussion of diversity in gender and sexual expression within the Morehouse community; and, until recently, this discussion had been prompted and completely lead by students on campus. Today, Morehouse SafeSpace -- the gay-straight alliance/student advocacy organization on campus -- is proud to announce that Morehouse has reached a milestone: in the 2013 spring semester, Morehouse's sociology department will be offering a course about the Black LGBTQ community. Dr. Jafari Allen, a Morehouse alumnus and professor at Yale University, will be teaching "A Genealogy of Black LGBT Culture and Politics" via video conference to Morehouse students. The course came to fruition after a series of conversations Dr. Allen and I had about black queer scholarship. It became clear that there was a void at Morehouse and he volunteered to help fill it.

What does this mean to me? It means relief; it means stepping away from a culture of silence and stoicism, and toward one of candor and understanding. By claiming a position of institutional 'neutrality,' Morehouse College has worked to stomach homosexuality and gender nonconformity on campus for years. The culture has been such that as long as members of this community remain inconspicuous, sexless and overtly masculine, social tolerance was in order. Unfortunately, the psychic distance between tolerance and acceptance is congruent to the emotional difference between a bleak handshake and a brotherly hug. Tolerance is not enough, and there is no room for neutrality. Like all other men of Morehouse, the gay, bisexual and genderqueer students need unique nurturing so that we may successfully become the Renaissance Men we envision when we bow our heads during recital of the Morehouse hymn. This means thoughtfully intentional engagements of issues relevant to queer communities, the construction of brotherly bonds which are appreciative of expressional differences, and a definition of the beloved community that is inclusive of gender and sexual fluidity. This course will be a step in the right direction; and, yes, it is relieving.

Ironically, however, within that relief is a feeling of exasperation. The availability of this course is merely the tip of the iceberg; and, just thinking about the various issues Morehouse -- other colleges and universities, the news, mainstream activists, the government or the greater public for that matter -- have yet to seriously consider is bothersome. So, while a victory lap is certainly in order for Morehouse finally engaging the curricular deficit affecting my community, let us take a second to ensure that our shoes are tied tightly in preparation for the marathon there is left to run. With the devastatingly high rate of HIV/AIDs among black gay and bisexual men, the disconcerting perpetuation of racism and gender essentialism within queer communities, the frighteningly dangerous, heterosexist results of international cultural imperialism in countries like Uganda, the eerie silence of the letter 'T' in the acronym LGBTQ, the saddening rates of poverty and homelessness among Black queer youth and families, and the socially problematic, limiting definitions of gender and sexuality all firmly in place to pull apart my community, we socially conscious, Renaissance Men, and the institution that produces us, still have much work to do in order to make our campus and our respective communities truly inclusive. While this course will certainly engage many of these concerns at length, it certainly serves as stimulation of the greater things to come.

With that being said, I hope that this new course serves as a charge for the Morehouse community. I hope that the gay, bisexual and genderqueer men feel charged to value their beautiful peculiarity. I hope that the hetero-masculine men feel charged to strengthen the bonds they share with those different from them. I hope that Morehouse faculty and staff feel charged to stray away from a culture of tolerance, and toward one of acceptance & appreciation. I hope the future social change agents of our community feel charged to closely investigate injustice toward and within queer communities. And, most importantly, I hope academic communities, social organizations, and political movements everywhere feel charged to take note and create change.

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