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Gay and black: they don't mix at too many historically black universities

It’s another one of those sad state of affairs stories. Once a refuge from discrimination as blacks were not allowed to attend white universities in the South, some of country’s more than 100 historically black colleges and universities are today making life difficult for gay and lesbians on campus. The closet is alive and well (365gay):

“You’ve got to recognize the history of HBCUs,” said Larry Curtis, vice president for student affairs at Norfolk State University, where students recently formed a gay-straight alliance. “Most of them were founded by religious organizations.”

Church leaders are often cited as setting the tone regarding homosexuality across the black community.

Nationwide, black pastors have opposed gay marriage and shot down comparisons between the struggles for civil rights and gay rights; others have attacked “down low” bisexual men for contributing to the rising AIDS rates among black women, though the topic is a matter of debate in the public health community.

On historically black campuses, those tensions make life uncomfortable for gay students.

“It’s kind of hard to be out on campus and still be successful,” said Vincent Allen Jr., head of Safe Space at Atlanta’s Morehouse College. “As an out gay man, if I wanted to pledge, that door is pretty much shut to me. That’s just the way it is.”

You know it’s bad when school administrators at some of these schools even deny having gay students at all.  The article recounts HRC’s coming out project to engage college campuses in 2002, which involved sending materials out to colleges — and the ones that showed no interest were the HBCUs.

A few have gay-straight alliances (those at Howard, Spelman, and Norfolk State University are mentioned), but is it any surprise when you hear reasoning like this for keeping gay rights in the closet.

But just as gay students can rightfully request campus inclusion, so too can black college administrators deny it, argued the Rev. William Owens, an HBCU graduate and head of the Coalition of African-American Pastors in Memphis, Tenn.

Those administrators may cite the Bible, or simply personal beliefs – and they don’t have to be politically correct, Owens said. “They can say ‘no’ and I don’t think they have to give a lot of reasons,” said Owens, who joined other black pastors worried that, along with dismal marriage rates, socially accepted homosexuality “is a threat to the black family.”

Last time I looked, LGBT citizens had nothing to do with adultery, divorce, out-of-child wedlock births, poverty, domestic violence or any other social ills affecting the community. If the family is the primary concern, these administrators have their priorities out of order if they feel the solution is to foment bigotry against out gays and lesbians who want to attend HBCUs and be part of the college life and community.

Should they choose to continue this public expression of discrimination, expect the schools to see their admissions drop further, something HBCUs hardly need. Keith Boykin blogs about the issue:

A few years ago, we ran a series of articles from black gay college students, including several who were students at historically black colleges and universities.  In light of the recent murder of a black gay college student at Norfolk State University, an HBCU, it seems like an appropriate time to revisit the topic.

…At Hampton University, for example, Maxwell says “The people who are in charge, I really don’t think they’re for it.” But school officials told AP that it’s all a matter of stiff competition since there is a limited number of student groups allowed on campus. “No organization is given any type of special treatment,” says assistant vice president for student affairs Barbara Inman. “The university doesn’t have a position on gay and lesbian faculty and staff members.”

The school doesn’t have a position on its gay staff and faculty? In 2007, that’s an outrage and that’s part of the problem at Hampton. To force a gay and lesbian support group to compete with a basket weaving group for recognition is to misunderstand the history of anti-gay discrimination that makes LGBT support groups essential and basket weaving optional. Students are not being harassed or beaten up because they want to join the chess club. But they are being abused and gay bashed because of their sexuality.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding