Morehouse College to offer new LGBT class in January as it moves beyond anti-gay past

Dress code and ‘Mean Girls of Morehouse’

Over the years, other alleged anti-gay incidents have taken place at Morehouse, one of the premier historically black universities in the country and the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In October 2009, Morehouse administrators instituted an “Appropriate Attire Policy” that among other things banned men from wearing women’s clothing on campus. Many LGBT activists on and off campus saw the policy as discriminatory.

Deemed transphobic by some LGBT activists, the dress code policy was aimed at a small group of men dubbed the “Mean Girls of Morehouse” in an article in Vibe magazine.

Also in October 2009,  Morehouse fired an employee who worked in the president’s office after she sent out an email to other employees that mocked a male couple and their wedding photos.

Progress with Gay Pride, LGBT summit and Bayard Rustin scholars

But progress continues to be made on the HBCU campus. In April 2010, Morehouse held its first Gay Pride and confronted the dress code policy with members of Soulforce.

Morehouse also participated in the historicl summit hosted at its sister university, Spelman College, in April 2011. The summit, titled the Audre Lorde Historically Black Colleges & Universities Summit, was the first of its kind to look at LGBT issues — from forming LGBT affinity groups to staff training on sexuality and gender issues — at historically black colleges and universities.

Just this past September, students from Morehouse College formed a Bayard Rustin scholars program to introduce a new chapter of social justice at the school.

And now, an entire class dedicated to LGBT studies to begin next semester.

Teaching course a ‘full circle moment’ for former Morehouse student

Titled “A Genealogy of Black LGBT Culture and Politics,” the class will be taught online by Dr. Jafari Allen, an associate professor of Anthropology & African American Studies at Yale University.

Allen attended Morehouse but finished his undergraduate work at New York University and received his PhD from Columbia University.

He didn’t finish his degree at Morehouse because the stress of being openly gay on a campus that was hostile to his sexual orientation was too much to handle.

“My coming out was at a time when it was so hard to be informed and have a mutually compassionate discussion — and the institution was unprepared and unwilling to help,” Allen told the GA Voice.

Allen was a campus leader, a member of a fraternity and in love with a woman — until 1990, his senior year.

“By my senior year, the relationship with the woman ended and I came out. I constantly had these conversations with classmates and friends and acquaintance where we weren’t hearing each other,” Allen said.

Fortunately for him, however, he was able to find strong support from his family as well as an established black LGBT community in Atlanta. And after several years of studying African American and LGBT studies himself, he returned to college. Returning to Morehouse to teach an LGBT course is a “full circle moment” for Allen.

“To see things have changed so much, although it is not where it needs to be, and to have the institution enthusiastic to have this course is very heartening to me,” he said.

‘We are moving toward something great’

Allen admitted he didn’t believe Morehouse would agree to have the course offered to students, but Marcus Lee, 19, a sophomore and the college’s SafeSpace’s Special Project and Events Coordinator, thought differently.

Lee had contacted Allen about such a class and when Allen agreed to help, Lee then went to Dr. Michael Hodge, chair of the Morehouse sociology department.

“I contacted Dr. Allen and he and I started to talk about ways he could mentor me through scholarship,” Lee said in an interview. Allen suggested he teach an informal class through videoconference and Lee decided, “Let’s offer it for credit” and got the OK to do so from Hodge.

“I didn’t think that the institution was ready or would be welcoming,” Allen said.

“When Marcus Lee mentioned to me he and other students wanted to study … I thought of an informal class. I thought that’s what was possible. That was from my limited perspective,” Allen said.

“But because [Lee] has been there and because younger people thankfully have a bigger sense of what’s possible, he went to Michael Hodge,” Allen said.

Within a couple weeks the four-credit course was up and running.

“It means a great deal for the students and me, but symbolically for the institution. This is sort of a bellwether, a test project of what is possible and for me to advise Morehouse faculty to make sure this course is incorporated into the regular curriculum,” Allen added.

Lee said he wanted such a course to be taught on campus and to his fellow classmates because there needs to be intentional focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender-loving people to ensure all people are integrated on campus.

“I think Morehouse hasn’t gotten to a point where it fully understands its men who are not heterosexual,” Lee said. “That affects us in various ways. For straight guys, they need to know we are part of their community.”

Lee acknowledges the past anti-gay incidents at his college. But he believes Morehouse is moving past those “dark days.”

Those incidents at Morehouse were indicative of the misunderstanding of LGBT people and issues and residual effects of not having intentional dialogues about all people, Lee added.

“Morehouse has struggled to respond to the incidents. But I think that’s where SafeSpace and students step up and really respect the brotherhood we have on campus,” Lee said. “We are not here to walk around and complain. That’s exactly what we don’t want to do. Rather we want to cooperate with them.”

Lee received help in ensuring the LGBT course would be taught from fellow student Kenneth Pass, president of Morehouse’s SafeSpace program.

“This class is good for Morehouse,” said Pass, 20, a junior. “I think it’s about making sure people are being challenged. Typically if people are heterosexist, they wont talk about LGBTQ individuals. Having this course at Morehouse we are intentionally trying to figure out what is this LGBTQ thing.

“We are taking people out of their comfort zones,” Pass said.  

“Each year Morehouse is taking more and more strides to becoming an epicenter for social change. We are moving toward something great,” said Pass.