(Savannah)- Eighteen-year-old Jonathan Prescott had to think long and hard about whether or not he would attend a historically black college and university (HBCU) after graduating from his Forsyth County high school. While HBCU’s have earned a reputation for producing some of our nation’s top African-American scholars, they’ve also earned a reputation for being less than welcoming to their LGBT students.
Prescott chose Savannah State University because he thought the campus climate would be more open-minded, but on the evening of Nov.9, he and a group of gay students quickly found out this wasn’t the case.
In a video posted to Facebook, Joshua Rumph, 17, a freshman business and marketing major at Savannah State along with Prescott and two additional gay students, describe being on the receiving end of anti-gay slurs in the campus student union by an unidentified female student and Savannah State police officer Brett Brown.
“I turn around and I see my friend Jonathan bobbing his head and moving his fingers, so I know something is going on,” Rumph tells Georgia Voice.
“I asked her what’s the T,” says Prescott, referring to the popular black gay phrase that is an updated version of asking “what’s going on?”
Both students are gender non-conforming and are as comfortable in makeup, skinny jeans and mid-driffs as they are in fitted caps and hoodies.
“We’re very flamboyant and I think she was put off by it,” says Prescott. “We get slammed for that all of the time. They say we’re too flamboyant and feminine. “
“I asked her if we had a problem. I came to her with respect. I wasn’t yelling. She’s a female and I have respect for females, “ says Rumph.
Prescott and Rumph believe they’re feminine presentation caused the female student to begin making disparaging remarks about their sexual orientation that caused tense and uncomfortable eye contact between both parties and ultimately led to a heated confrontation in the crowded student union.
“She was screaming at the top of her lungs to get attention. We had a big audience,” says Rumph. “Her male friend stepped to me and was like, you’re not about to do that to her, she’s a female. At this point she began calling me bitches and faggots. This is when I get hot because you’re not about to call me out of my name. I took off my watch and my fur and I’m ready,” he says.
“It was basically a petty argument that blew up,” says Prescott.
“Get these faggots out of here!”
A security guard present was able to diffuse the situation, but Prescott says what happened next should never occur at the hands of a campus police officer who has taken an oath to protect all Savannah State students.
“The security guard came over and asked if everyone was okay and he asked us to leave the building, which was fine,” says Prescott. “As we were leaving the building we heard Officer (Brett) Brown say, “Get these faggots out of here!”
Prescott and Rumph say they their mood fluctuated between anger and disbelief, which led them to file an official complaint shortly after the incident occurred with campus police.
Savannah State Deputy Chief Keith Hayes tells Georgia Voice that he “got the complaint and internal affairs is looking into it.” Hayes also adds that as of Nov. 13 they were still interviewing people to determine what was said and who he (Brown) said it to.” Brown was unavailable for comment due to previously scheduled time off.
When asked if Brown had a history of making anti-gay comments, Hayes replied, “I don’t have his file but I haven’t heard of any other incidents like this happening. If the officer is found guilty we will discipline him and discipline him harshly.”
Hayes believes the Savannah State University police department could benefit from LGBT sensitivity training, which has not been up for discussion prior to recent events.
“As far as sensitivity training, yes we’ve had it. Now as far as dealing with gay and lesbian students, no, we’ve never had it. Anything that we can do to make the situation better, I’m all for it,” says Hayes.
Gay/Straight Alliance inactive
Prescott and Rumph both believe an organized presence of LGBT students or the reinstatement of the Gay/Straight Alliance could help improve the hostile environment for LGBT students at Savannah State.
“We all had a fear of whether or not we could be openly gay at a black school,” says Rumph. “We’d already made a pact that we were gonna stick together and have each other’s back.”
Bonita Bradley, special assistant to the Vice-President for Student Affairs, tells Georgia Voice “the organization is still open and available to be re-established.”
Bradley also adds that sexual orientation and gender identity is included in Savannah State’s non-discrimination policy and that she’s personally spoken to Prescott and Rumph and all parties are “working together on an agenda.”
Prescott says he’s been told by “some of the board that this is the first time they’ve had openly gay men on their campus.”
He now says that he only feels comfortable on campus to a certain extent.
“I always have my guard up because I never know what’s going to happen. “