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The Grio / By R. L’Heureux Lewis — Morehouse College, my beloved alma mater, has again been catapulted into the national spotlight due to a forthcoming article in Vibe magazine. The story entitled, “The Mean Girls of Morehouse”, by Aliya King, traces the experience of three gender bending current and former Morehouse students. Before the article could hit the Internet or news stands the President of Morehouse, Dr. Robert M. Franklin, issued a letter to alumni decrying the portrayal of Morehouse. Franklin’s move, while to some may be proactive, is actually reactionary and misses the mark on the importance of the story. Where Franklin and other see the maligning of Morehouse, when I read the article I see the space for a richer discussion of masculinity, higher education, and community.

As the nation’s only all male historically black college, Morehouse holds a special place in the history of black America and the minds of people of African descent. It is this legacy and imagery that is trapping not just Morehouse, but many HBCUs, at the center of controversy as they figure out their paths to the future. As comments pour in about cross-dressing and gay students at Morehouse, we should not just be looking at what it tells us about Morehouse but what it tells us about HBCUs and our community at large.

It is not a secret that there are gay men at Morehouse. It is not a secret that there are gay men within the black community. If those two things are clear, then why the far-reaching condemnation of the article? Fear. There are multiple fears: the fear of homosexuality, the fear of transgender people, the fear of the diminishing image of black schools, to name just a few. In fact, these fears have become so great that few admit to holding them, instead we allow them to guide our discussions in silence.

Many of the outcries I have read suggest the article is another stain on the legacy of Morehouse and a part of a larger project of tearing down black men. Near chants of, “why don’t you highlight something positive?” are flooding social media. While this perspective is common, it can only persist if we think being gay or being transgendered is bad. Over the past few years, Morehouse has entered the national spotlight for violence in the forms of gay bashing and shootings between students. These are serious problems that take lives not just at Morehouse but within our larger communities. Being androgynous or loving the same gender is not the problem. In fact, queer people are often at the receiving end of the problems of violence, bigotry, and harassment.

All these issues remain deeply tied to how we define what black manhood and community. Rather than constructing an inclusive definition that centers on a healthy functioning, diversity of identity, and responsibility, we quickly close ranks and try to exclude people who may not dress or love in ways that fit a neat image of a “real” black man.

Sociologist Mignon Moore points out that sexuality has always challenged who and what we define as desirable within the black community. Both black and Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities have placed strong emphasis on carrying oneself properly to avoid discrimination. More recently, the voices and realities of being black and LGBT have become increasing visible, but the mandates of proper comportment remain and mean many LGBT brothers and sisters are locked out portions of our community or forced to avoid them for their safety and sanity. This kind of exclusion is what breeds the climate that brothers in the article talk about. The maintenance of spaces that are hostile towards openly gay blacks means we have fewer spaces for the development of all black people.

(Continue Reading @ The Grio…)

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  • Clnmike

    Morehouse offers a unique environment to study black men and homosexuality but at the same time with articles like this and Vibes’s “The Mean Girls of Morehouse” they definitely seemed targeted. The title of Vibe seems to want to pick a fight so that’s what they’ll get. As for the issue of transgenders at Morehouse I am of the opinion that you follow the rules of the institution you attend.

  • sloane

    what about the people who come to the realization that they are transgendered after they start attending college? should they deny who they are just to make other people feel comfortable? the article is right, there is unfortunately a bias against non-gender conforming folks in the straight and lgbt (although i don’t believe it to be as pervasive) communities, and it’s unfortunate that a group that is supposed to cater to lgbt folks would dare support this policy that has a hand in stifling someone’s gender expression. my question is, if any grown adult (which all the people at universities technically are) sees a man wearing a blouse, makeup, and heels is it going to kill them? what if instead of stifling people’s self expression, we made it a norm to accept people for who they are and not what they look like? people might slowly come to realization that it’s not fair to margainlize others for their gender expression and might acclimate themselves to seeing something different.

  • Clnmike

    If the institution has a dress code, or code of conduct, you are expected to adhere to it regardless of when your self discovery occurred.

    • sloane

      well, they didn’t even come up with this recent incarnation of the dress code until there was a very visible contingent of feminine men on campus. so the issue doesn’t just begin and end with the dress code. the school wants to stop men or transgendered students from expressing any femininity.

  • Prodoc06

    Your assertion of “fear” being the motivator for the condemnation of this article is questionable my Morehouse Brother. To state that this should lead to more discussions about sexuality, masculinity in the HBCU and black community as a whole is correct and appropriate, however. That is precisely why Morehouse held a Gay Pride Week on its campus to facilitate those kinds of discussions. In that regard, Morehouse’s efforts should have been built upon, and not disregarded and disrespected in an article of this type. This article does nothing to foster healthy dialogue between gay brothers/sisters and the black community (religious, intellectual/academic, or otherwise). It incites anger and distrust while not acknowledging steps in the right direction that Morehouse has taken by having a Gay Pride Week and also providing a voice for gay Men of Morehouse through its Safe Space Organization. Brother President Franklin should be applauded for these efforts taking place under his leadership. It should be the shining example for other HBCUs to follow. As Morehouse has made her steps and growth to engage its gay student population, an article like this counters this example of progressive leadership. These are a few students (present and former) at Morehouse, who have demonstrated some psychosis related to their unresolved issues with parents and other authority figures. Morehouse should not be this kind of battle ground for these students’ personal, unresolved issues. It is my hope that these young brothers will not be further exploited, but develop into healthy, well-adjusted (transgendered) gay men. This kind of rebellious, frenzied response by these young brothers presented in the VIBE article shows how this segment of the gay population really needs our help and not to exploited as they have been by VIBE to the chagrin of the Morehouse Brotherhood. My prayers are with these students and former students and the rest of the Morehouse Community. Let the respectful discussion and healing begin! We are Morehouse Men; strong and stronger because of this. I am excited……Let’s do this!