On August 29, 2015, Howard University made a statement. With the support of the trustee board, its graduate trustee Christopher N. Cross released a letter to Howard’s alumni and current students that they were embarking upon a new frontier to engage their campus community in a brand new endeavor. What makes this new initiative special? This year Howard University will host their first officially recognized Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally (LGBTA) fundraiser amongst their nationally recognized homecoming events. The event, “The Inaugural LGBTA Renaissance Reception of Howard University,” will occur during the 2015 Homecoming Celebration.
Numerous events are held during Howard’s Homecoming, including a fashion show, football game, and step show. During the course of a week, the campus welcomes over 100,000 alumni and friends of the university. However, their new LGBT event marks a significant turn for Howard and HBCU history. Howard is consciously placing their LGBT constituents on a national platform and courageously standing in the face of homophobia. They are attempting to engage their LGBT students and alumni so that a culture of inclusion can be established and emulated in other HBCU communities.
As a Howard alum who is part of the LGBT community, Howard’s groundbreaking stance on LGBT student and alumni engagement is extremely personal to me. At an early age I decided that I was going to attend an HBCU. While my peers looked to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, I viewed our country’s HBCUs with the same reverence and ultimately decided to attend Howard University. As I reflect on my choice, I celebrate my ten-year college reunion, and as Howard approaches its 150th anniversary I am truly in awe. I never thought that this day would come. My alma mater is finally validating the oppressed identities of LGBT students who are present on their campus and recognizing their LGBT students and alumni in a huge way. Unfortunately, across the country LGBT HBCU students often live “invisible lives.” These students do not feel as if they truly are a part of their campus communities.
My time at Howard was extremely positive and played a huge role in shaping my adult development. During my undergraduate career, I was highly involved, nurtured by faculty, and enjoyed immense popularity. However, there were blatant overt and covert messages that were conveyed to me by the campus administration and my peers regarding my sexuality that forced me to hide the fact that I was gay, and in essence, I shut off an entire part of my identity.
Howard was “home,” but as much as I loved it I always wondered, did it truly love me back? For the first time, I am finally hopeful that Howard does love me and those who are like me—alumni who are unafraid to live and walk in their own truths, those current students who may be questioning their place, and even perspective students who may be uncertain if an HBCU is the “right” place for them as they reconcile their sexuality.
Howard has taken a brave stand. Their inaugural LGBTA fundraiser will use the funds raised to establish “The Lavender Fund.” The Lavender Fund will establish programs and work to promote a campus culture that directly confronts the venomous homophobia that divides Black communities on Howard’s campus and at other HBCUs. Research has shown that there is a need to improve the campus climates for LGBT students so that they will one day engage and give back to their alma maters. If this is accomplished, HBCU LGBT alumni can be engaged to forge spaces of inclusion and acceptance for all students. Engagement of all is critical.
Trustee Cross concluded his letter by stating, “It is time to tear away the masks and address the issues that have been festering in order to alleviate the isolation, bullying and depression among members of our LGBT community.” These words give me hope that Howard and other HBCUs shall welcome HBCU LGBT communities, so that we can work towards making HBCUs reciprocal educational spaces that recognize and affirm each and every student that seeks to walk their hallowed grounds.
The invitation to the Howard University “Lavender Fund” reception and giving information can be found here.
Steve D. Mobley, Jr. recently earned his Ph.D from the University of Maryland with a focus in Educational Policy & Leadership. He is an affiliate with the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions and engages in research that highlights contemporary HBCU topics that include race, class, and sexuality.