Tuesday, April 22, 2008

spacerAn upcoming luncheon hosted by Safe Space, the gay student group at Morehouse College, is named after black gay writer James Baldwin. (Photo by AP)
'House' cleaning
Events, new leadership aim to rid Morehouse College of homophobia

APR. 18, 2008

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No More “No Homo” Initiative

April 21-26
Morehouse College

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Letter to the Editor

BEFORE MICHAEL BREWER WALKS ACROSS the stage next month to receive his bachelor’s degree in political science, he’s determined to continue improving the political and social climate for gay students at Morehouse College.

Brewer and Morehouse Safe Space, a gay student group at the historically black private school, are organizing a week of activities April 21-26 aimed at increasing awareness of homophobia and heterosexism at Morehouse. Dubbed the “No More ‘No Homo’ Initiative,” the weeklong campaign also seeks to eradicate one of the most commonly used epithets gay students encounter at the all-male college.

“It really came from a place of wanting to leave not only my institution, but my community in a better place than I found it in for those coming after me,” Brewer says. “I think the situation [for gay students at Morehouse] is definitely improving.

“It’s not quite as bad as it’s always been, but anywhere that hatred persists and tolerance is the goal, and not the standard, then there’s more work to be done,” Brewer adds.

The initiative kicks off April 21 with the showing of “No Hetero,” a documentary produced by three film students at neighboring Spelman College. The film uses the experiences of gay and lesbian students at Morehouse and Spelman to look at the broader issue of sexual orientation discrimination among African-Americans.

On April 22, members of Morehouse Safe Space are scheduled to appear before the student senate and submit a resolution calling for more awareness of the plight of gay students at Morehouse. A panel discussion on homophobia at historically black colleges and universities is scheduled for April 23, while “National Day of Silence” activities are planned for April 24 and April 25.

The week culminates April 26 with the James Baldwin Brunch, a coalition-building luncheon designed to link students with supportive administrators, faculty and activists.

BREWER FIRST arrived at Morehouse as the school was still reeling from national media coverage of an anti-gay attack in one of the school’s dormitories. Morehouse’s administration was widely criticized for their handling of the attack, but Brewer said things have gotten remarkably better since Robert M. Franklin became Morehouse president earlier this year.

“I think Morehouse is really kind of taking on a new role and showing a new side of itself,” Brewer says. “They’re saying that they’re ready to address these issues and ready to integrate them into the Morehouse College education and experience.”

In his Feb. 15 inaugural address, Franklin called on Morehouse students to be “men who respect and celebrate diversity, and are secure enough not to be intimidated by the presence of different sexual orientations, but rather, stand in solidarity with those who are in the minority.”

Despite lingering intolerance, Brewer says his experience as a black gay man at Morehouse has been fulfilling.

“I have to say, I love my institution,” he says. “I’ve had a slew of positive experiences there, I’ve had a slew of challenging experiences there. It’s a place where everyone comes to become the man that they were meant to be.”

ONE OF THE LARGEST CHALLENGES REMAINING at Morehouse is combating that casual homophobia that manifests in terms like “no homos” allowed in parties, student organizations and friendship circles.

“The term ‘no homo’ is such a very common term,” Brewer says. “It kind of traverses all aspects of life at my institution. It’s almost a mantra or life philosophy, if you will.

“It usually suffixes a statement to reassert someone’s masculinity, or clarify a sentiment that they feel needs to be stated, in terms of ‘Don’t come on to me,’” Brewer adds. “So really this whole week is addressing why is it that we use that term, and what does it mean to a homosexual student when other students use it.”

Despite Morehouse’s long and well-earned reputation as a school with many gay students, the gay population and groups like Safe Space continue to strive for greater visibility.

“Homosexuality, or bisexuality, or any queer identity is still so taboo in the African-American community,” Brewer says. “A lot of time, I think the problem comes when the community doesn’t rise up and address those things [like “no homo”] as problems. Unless someone tells them that something is offensive and wrong, how are they ever going to know that they need to change and correct their behavior?”