Since its inception in 1867, Morehouse College
is noted as the bastion of black male leadership. Embodying
W. E.B. Dubois’s theory of The Talented Tenth, where “exceptional
black men” would be the ones to lead the race, Morehouse College
has produced unquestionably a pantheon of noted black men.
However, nowhere in its development of strong
black men were gay and bisexual men included in its elite
brotherhood. And now, more than a century later, gay and bisexual
Morehouse men are still struggling to be accepted.
Michael Brewer, a senior at Morehouse is trying
to help the college foster a more welcoming environment, but
much of his efforts on campus fall on deaf ears. But LGBTQ
activists are listening and so, too, is the Los Angeles
Times with its recent article “Morehouse College faces
its own bias - against gays.”
With more and more students of Brewer’s generation
arriving on campus openly gay and bisexual, Morehouse’s
administration continues to lack the cultural competence and
sensitivity to address the issue, fostering students to think
there is only one way to be a Morehouse man. For example,
Devrin Lindsay, a junior, told the Los Angeles Times that
an effeminate man who “swishes down the campus like he’s on
a runway” damages Morehouse’s image for both parents with
students looking to attend the college.
But it is Morehouse’s highly publicized 2002
gay-bashing incident that has damaged its image, and has no
doubt taught the administration very little. On November 4,
2002, a Morehouse College student sustained a fractured skull
from his classmate, sophomore Aaron Price, not surprisingly
the son of an ultra-conservative minister. Price uncontrollably
beat his victim on the head with a baseball bat for allegedly
looking at him in the shower.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
(AJC), the victim, whose name was not disclosed to protect
his privacy, did not have his glasses on and allegedly peered
at Price through the shower curtain of his stall to see if
Price was his roommate.
many on Morehouse’s campus felt then and do now that peering
in a student’s shower is an act that not only transgresses
Price’s privacy as a man, but also warrants some form of brute
retaliation as an indication of his manhood. “A lot of people
believe that he deserved to get beaten up if he was looking
in the shower stall. Students are very wary of any action
that could be misconstrued as a gay overture,” sophomore Mubarak
Guy, who is a friend of Price’s, told the AJC in 2002.
During the arguments for and against convicting
Price of the state’s first hate crime, Assistant Fulton County
District Attorney, Holly Hughes, asked the jury to remember
the words Price allegedly uttered “when he beat his victim
with a baseball bat: ‘Faggot, you’re gay, gay... I hate these
Morehouse is lauded as the jewel of black academia.
Founded two years after the end of the Civil War by William
Jefferson White in the basement of Springfield Baptist Church
in Augusta, Ga., Morehouse’s most famous alumnus is the Rev.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who graduated from Morehouse
in 1948 with a B.A. in sociology.
But King had his own problems with gay men.
Sadly, Bayard Rustin, the gay man who was chief
organizer and strategist for the 1963 March on Washington
that further catapulted Martin Luther King onto the world
stage, was not the beneficiary of King’s dream.
In a spring 1987 interview with “Open Hands,”
a resource for ministries affirming the diversity of human
sexuality, Rustin stated that he pushed King to speak up on
his behalf, but King did not. In John D’Emilo’s book Lost
Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin,
D’Emilo wrote: “Rustin offered to resign in the hope that
he would force the issue. Much to his chagrin, King did not
reject the offer. At the time, King was also involved in a
major challenge to the conservative leadership of the National
Baptist Convention, and one of his ministerial lieutenants
in the fight was also gay. Basically, King said, ‘I can’t
take on two queers at one time.’”
Price was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Price expressed no emotion as the guilty verdict was read.
Although Morehouse College President then in
2002, Walter Massey, stated, “homophobia is not a new topic
at Morehouse,” in commenting on the beating of the student
in a campus wide address, little has changed. After the 2002
beating, gay students formed a support group, Safe Space,
to which Brewer belongs. But the group this year only had
about five active members.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s it was
more dangerous to be openly gay and bisexual on Morehouse’s
campus than it was on the streets in
black neighborhoods. Jafari Sinclaire Allen, a professor at
University of Texas was an openly gay student at Morehouse
in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He recalls fleeing campus
one evening after a forum to address homophobia turned violently
homophobic. And throughout the 1990’s Morehouse was listed
on the Princeton Review’s top 20 homophobic campuses.
But homophobic incidents at Morehouse speak
to a larger issue plaguing men of African descent in this
country - acknowledging their sexuality.
With the dominant culture’s iconography of
black male sexuality ranging from sexual predator to pornographic
object, both the dominant heterosexual and the gay culture’s
fear and fascination with black male sexuality may satisfy
racist paranoid fantasies, but also strips men of African
descent of both their possession of their sexuality as well
as their language to safely express it.
white Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s notorious “Man in
a Polyester Suit” maintains the stereotypical convention of
black male sexuality as a monstrous phallus that is dangerous,
out of control and animalistic. The gay white male photographer’s
central focus on a black uncircumcised penis protruding from
an unzipped pair of polyester pants reasserts the mythology
of the super-sexualized black man.
Many African-American men on the “down low”
(DL) say there are two salient features that contribute to
their subculture - white gay culture and the Black Church.
DL men deliberately segregate themselves from both black and
white gay cultures as an alternative black masculinity that
only wants to have sex and socialize with other black men.
But class is a factor here, too. While many gay African-American
men have the economic mobility to reside outside of the black
community and are likely to intermingle with the dominant
gay culture, most DL men don’t.
“They’ve created a community of their own,
a cultural party where whites aren’t invited. Labeling yourself
as DL is a way to disassociate from everything white and upper
class… And that is a way for DL men to assert some power,”
George Ayala, director of education for AIDS Project Los Angeles,
told the Times in the 2003 article.
The Black Church’s gender ideology and sexual
politics also contribute to this subculture. A study by the
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicated that African-American
churchgoers are the least likely of all faiths to support
gay civil rights. The Forum also indicated that since 2006,
black Protestants are less likely than other Protestant groups
to believe that gays should have equal rights. For example,
black Protestant support for gays dipped to a low of 40 percent
last year, down from 65 percent in 1996 and 59 percent in
With homophobia running as rampant in historically
black colleges and universities as it is in black churches,
there are no safe places to openly engage the subject of black
sexuality. With sexuality being both socially constructed
and performative, black male sexuality, due to racist stereotypes,
becomes a caricature of itself that is heavily imprinted in
society. Black gay sexuality within African-American culture
is perceived to further threaten not only black male heterosexuality,
but also the ontology of blackness itself.
“If you look historically at what black males
were subjected to in the white community, to hear a black
male saying he’s gay goes against the grain of society’s picture,”
said Florence Bonner, head of the sociology department at
Howard University in Washington, D.C., another HBCU. “The
African-American community suffers from not having enough
outlets for cross connection, or for all of us in general
to talk about sexuality and the impact of living in fear of
stating your sexuality.”
the nation’s largest liberal arts college for men, Morehouse
continues to confer degrees on more men of African descent
than any institution of higher education in this country.
Although Morehouse has always had a vibrant underground gay
community, Morehouse has carefully crafted its image as an
institution that produces strong men of African descent. And
part of its crafted image is the legacy of the strong Morehouse
man who is unquestionably heterosexual.
If Morehouse is to continue to be the jewel
of black academia nurturing the talents and gifts of its exceptional
black men, then it must ask itself…to what degree does its
tradition hinders its goal?
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe is a religion columnist,
theologian, and public speaker. A native of Brooklyn, Rev.
Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological
Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at
an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity
School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. Reverend Monroe’s
Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible
Prayers for Not-So-Everyday Moments will be out in June, 2008. Click on the above link
to order now at pre-release pricing. As an African American
feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that
is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com.
to contact the Rev. Monroe.