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.