Are Students Reframing Narratives of LGBTQ Acceptance at HBCUs?

The sample size is small, and the years of painful intolerance are many to yet overcome, but students at some historically black colleges and universities are working to be a support system for campus LGBTQ students and communities.

A few weeks ago, Morehouse College’s DuBois Dance Team made headlines with their performance at a Mr. Freshman pageant held at Spelman College.

Today, Hampton University Senior Matthew Gates writes for the Huffington Post about his first public appearance in drag — which is believed to have been the first public drag appearance in the campus’ history.

Once I took the stage, all my worries went out of the door. It took a few moments for the crowd to realize that what appeared to be this alluring lady, was actually myself in drag. In that moment of realization, I was encouraged with loud chants and cheers from my fellow classmates. My adrenaline rush was visible through my dancing, lip-syncing, and hair twirling. Once I landed my last dance move on the final beat of the song, the crowd erupted into roaring cheers and applause. In that final moment, I said to myself, “you did it.”

Again, the sample size is far too small to suggest that HBCUs are collectively moving towards embracing LGTBQ culture, let alone presence, on campuses nationwide. Black America remains far too conservative to call the race between tolerance and taboo a dead heat. But Hampton and Morehouse, two campuses known for rigid expectations of academic, social and cultural excellence, are at the center of two culture shifting narratives of black men feeling comfortable enough to challenge campus norms.

And in both cases, those men were greeted with overwhelming applause and support from their classmates — men and women alike. And if two of the most elite, culturally unbending campuses are changing perspectives on LGBTQ tolerance, how many HBCUs are also turning the corner? How many schools long ago became safer ground for all students, without the benefit of a YouTube video or a Huffington Post column?

Do they have their opponents? Of course, among students, faculty and especially alumni who may read this column. And that’s okay, because free thought and idealism are required tools in shattering glass ceilings and building brick walls alike.

The stories at Hampton and Morehouse don’t happen unless men feel comfortable, and comfort in sexuality and personality typically doesn’t come heat-and-serve for young people, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status.

As narratives continue to appear about the lack of safe space on HBCU campuses for closeted and openly LGBTQ brothers and sisters, the question is not if the culture is changing, but if we missed the change altogether?