More than 60 people gathered at Morehouse College March 25 for a roundtable discussion on “Sexuality as Power.” The event at Kilgore Hall’s Tiger Grill was part of the historically black, all-male college’s first gay Progress, Restoration, Identity, Dignity and Empowerment (P.R.I.D.E.) Week.
Frank talk about sex, gender and gender identity ensued in a relaxed atmosphere that included young people participating in the Soulforce Q Equality Ride, a bus tour of young LGBT people traveling to campuses across the country.
The discussion, sponsored by Morehouse’s gay-straight alliance Safe Space and the Department of Sociology, was just one activity during the week of events held March 22-27.
“There’s been a great wave in social change and attitude in the nation and at our school as well, so we thought this was the perfect time to capitalize on that,” said Kevin Webb, 21, co-president of Safe Space.
“Morehouse has made me who I am. [W]e are a unique school because we are the only college in America that solely produces African-American men to be sent out into the business and social world to make substantial change,” added Webb, who is gay. “This is a great moment in the history of our institution.”
William Bynum Jr., vice president for student services at Morehouse, said the administration fully supports the week as a way to educate students and faculty.
“We are extremely supportive of their activities. I’m one of the advisers for Safe Space and support their desire to further educate,” he said. “It’s taken Safe Space a number of years before it felt comfortable to put on a week of activities and we want to be sure we continue to educate ourselves.”
‘Transphobic’ dress code?
A specific concern for Soulforce Equality Riders to bring up in conversations with Morehouse administrators, who welcomed them to the campus, was the college’s dress code policy. Implemented last year, it includes that students cannot wear “clothing usually worn by women (dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.) on the Morehouse campus or at college-sponsored events.”
Soulforce visited the campus two years ago and chose to visit again this year because of the new policy, said Nick Miller, 26, of Ohio, who was on his first Soulforce Equality Ride.
“We were welcomed here two years ago, but the policy changed between then and we feel it further inhibited on some students’ rights,” Miller said. “It’s slightly more of a struggle for some individuals whose gender expression is outside this policy.”
Mac Simon, 21, a transgender man also on his first Equality Ride, agreed.
“We find the policy limits gender expression and is transphobic,” Simon said.
Morehouse junior Chanel Monroe, 20, said he is identified as a male because he attends a male college, but he believes gender is fluid.
“I identify as me. I don’t conform to gender roles,” said Monroe, wearing bright red lipstick.
And when the campus invited B. Scott, a black gay online media star, to speak during P.R.I.D.E. Week, nearly 500 people attended. But Monroe pointed out the contradiction of having B. Scott, who wears women’s clothing, speaking at the campus with its restrictive dress code.
“They say we can’t wear pumps, but we had B. Scott, who identifies as male, wearing pumps on the stage. That just puts hell on us to have this dress code,” Monroe said.
“But I do think the college is progressing.”
Daniel Edwards, 21, a junior sociology major and co-president of Safe Space, said the campus’ first gay P.R.I.D.E. Week came about after Spelman College, the women’s college adjacent to Morehouse, held its first gay Pride week last year.
Safe Space partnered with Spelman’s LGBT organization, Afrekete, for that event.
“That action was the turning point for us,” Edwards said. “They paved the way for us. In the spirit of collaboration and empowerment — and the spirit of competition — we had to do it, too.”
Edwards said there was not much backlash from other students. The backlash comes when some students confuse gender identity with sexual orientation, Edwards added.
“When we have individuals … outside gender norms, they are called derogatory names like ‘queer’ and ‘faggot,’” he said.
Webb, an English-Spanish double major, said the week was empowering for him. And the two men said seeing the looks on gay freshmen’s faces, knowing they were walking into an inclusive environment, was satisfying.
“They had one positive time that was a reflection of them, a reflection of their humanity,” Edwards said. “That was something we didn’t have.”
“And it was something they didn’t know existed,” Webb added.
Photo: Morehouse College Safe Space co-presidents Daniel Edwards (left) and Kevin Webb organized the university’s first gay P.R.I.D.E. week this month. (by Dyana Bagby)