A Letter from Morehouse SafeSpace President Marcus Lee UPDATED

by Marcus Lee

Thank you for writing this poignant blog about your experience. I’m the President of Morehouse SafeSpace—Morehouse’s Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversities—and these issues are ones we grapple with frequently.

Our situation is a complex and peculiar one. I’m proud to say that many of us (students & alum) have committed to loving ourselves/each other regardless of—and in some instances because of—our differences. Moreover, there are many faculty and staff members—including the President of the college, the Office of Student Life, several professors, etc.—that embrace us. However, Morehouse’s curricula, institutional policies and procedures do not reflect this embrace. There are no Black queer studies courses, gender and sexual orientation are absent from our employment nondiscrimination policy, we have a dress code that outlaws wearing ‘female attire,’ we have an inactive diversity committee, and the list continues. So, I don’t think the football team’s reactions are inherent to them specifically. Instead, they are a product of a grooming process—that begins in the world, and is buttressed or goes uninterrupted at Morehouse—that’s checkered with heteronormativity and silence; inclusive spaces are forged here in spite of, not because of, the culture of the college.

To be sure, Morehouse will respond to this issue—many of us (students and alum) have reached out to the President and the VP of Student Affairs and they’ve responded with disappointment and noted that the football team will be engaging in dialogue about this soon. And, when asked about an institutional commitment to diversity, the VP noted that it’s also coming soon.

I hope this is true. Issues like these cannot and should not be dealt with discreetly. This is a systemic issue that permeates campus no matter how friendly and encouraging a few administrative folks are toward us. In short, I implore anyone who is concerned to ask, not what will happen with the football team particularly, but what will be installed to permanently mitigate homophobia on campus. That’s the key.

Thanks again,

Marcus Lee

EDITED TO ADD:

So many folks have reached out about the “Dear White People” blog and I’m so thankful for your support. I haven’t been able to offer detailed responses to folks asking about our needs because I’m still a student with A LOT of work to do, applications to complete, etc. But, I wanted to write a short post advising folks on what support for us looks like in this moment.

Things that don’t help:

– [Erroneously] saying that Morehouse is a school full of girls (which is somehow supposed to elucidate the irony of the situation; but, in reality only implies that there is something wrong with being a “girl” [gay] and reinforces homophobia.)

– Opportunistically reaching out to us to be flown down for a panel, a meeting, etc. without actually having any real concern about or knowledge of Morehouse’s history with diversity–i.e. our setbacks and triumphs.

– Castigating the actions of the football team without asking questions about what Morehouse is or is not doing institutionally to interrupt homophobia [thereby, allowing for the possibility that the football team may be used as a scapegoat to avoid dealing with institutional issues].

– Suggesting that homophobia among those men–some of whom are my friends–was inevitable [thereby, perpetuating the myth of Black “super-homophobia” (as opposed to white “gentle-homophobia”?)]

Things that do help:

– Reaching out to the Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities and asking her how many of the several open positions in the social science departments will be filled by scholars who study sexuality and gender–more specifically, scholars who label their work “Black/Queer/Feminist” [be sure that the word “Black” is included somewhere in that label.]

– Reach out to the President of the college and the VP of Student Affairs to ask which campus-wide programs are happening in order to mitigate homophobia.

– Ask the VP who is on the Diversity Committee, how often they meet, and what they have done for the campus

– Reach out to the Provost of the college to ask which part of the general education curriculum includes a necessary, thoroughgoing engagement with Black/Queer/Feminist work. Then, ask which texts are being read.

– Ask when the LGBT diversity competence training happens on campus and how many faculty and staff members show up.

– Reach out to General Counsel and ask how long it will take for gender identity and sexual orientation to be added to the employment non discrimination policy and the student non-discrimination policy.

– Reach out to the President and ask that the “Appropriate Attire Policy” be abolished.

– And the list continues.

I hope this helps!

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A Letter from Morehouse SafeSpace President Marcus Lee UPDATED

21 thoughts on “A Letter from Morehouse SafeSpace President Marcus Lee UPDATED

  1. 4

    CaitieCat @3:
    I agree that the response is excellent, but I wonder how much change will come to Morehouse. As Marcus says, the culture there is steeped in homophobia. For all that society at large has accepted same-sex marriage, in other areas, it’s still an uphill battle to get LGBT people treated equitably (Morehouse being a microcosm of the wider culture in the US). I want to be hopeful though, so maybe I’ll be cautiously optimistic?

  2. 8

    As black people, we love to excuse or deny behavior that is an embarrassment rather than deal with it. The original blogger could have done just a bit of research to discover the recent strides Morehouse has done to be more inclusive of our Same Gender loving brothers. However the behavior was deplorable and IS an embarrassment for this prestigious establishment? Homophobia in black culture is bigger than Morehouse. It is perpetuated in frats, sororities, and church groups all over the country.

  3. 9

    Marcus:

    Brother, I agree with about 99% what you said. I do not believe that the “Appropriate Attire Policy” should be abolished. The policy does not only disallow men dressed in women’s attire, but it disallows sagging pants and wearing gold teeth in your mouth as well. All of these practices should continue to be disallowed in my opinion. No offense to you as a gay brother. I hope you understand. Stay blessed my man.

  4. 10

    Great post. I attended Spelman for a semester and I know there is much work to be done in the AUC; there is much work to be done everywhere. I especially appreciate the specific suggestions you made around holding Morehouse’s administration accountable. I want to suggest that you include the email addresses and/or phone numbers of the administrators you mentioned above to make it easier for folks to reach out. I will certainly do so in solidarity.

  5. 12

    Homophobia at Morehouse has been going on too, too long; considering that it is the Alma Mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who embraced the openly gay Bayard Rustin as one of his closest friends, advisors, and confidants!! Dr. King recognized that NONE OF US ARE FREE UNTIL ALL OF US ARE FREE, and Morehouse is, regrettably, failing its students by NOT passing on the human rights legacy of its most celebrated student, onto its undergraduates–the future leaders of All of America!! MOREHOUSE NEEDS TO DO BETTER!!!

  6. 13

    Marcus Lee has already mentioned “the myth of black super-homophobia”, but after reading the other comment thread, where apologists for the Morehouse students in the theater accused Ashley of somehow blowing their anti-gay bigotry out of proportion because they were black, I wanted to say something about it, too.

    I suspect that some whites in atheist/skeptic communities like FtB stereotype blacks as rabidly bigoted against LGBT individuals because they can use this as an excuse to avoid them. For example, I unsubscribed from Sam Harris’s newsletter after I listened to an NPR interview in which he refused to unequivocally state that not all black people are homophobic. The journalist didn’t even ask him to deny that many black communities condone anti-LGBT bigotry. There was such dismissiveness and disdain in his voice, though, and he just wouldn’t do it.

    I wondered if his fans were generally white, educated and straight, with more white, educated and LGBT friends than black friends of any class. They probably grew up away from blacks and moved in social circles that didn’t happen to include blacks. So maybe it was a relief for some of them to have this principled excuse for avoiding relationships– and I meant relationships, not passing acquaintances with workers or “those two sexist Jamaican guys on my block”– with blacks, instead of having to examine whatever prejudices they might have against them. And I was talking about a spectrum of prejudices, semi-conscious as well as fully recognized, ranging from indifference to racism against blacks as well to distaste or disgust for the culture, accents, physical appearances, etc. associated with blacks.

    Moreover, I continue to think some FtB readers have this issue, including one who commented on the other thread. And I reserve my right to feel anger about it, so I get feeling angry about it.

    Ashley didn’t blow anything out of proportion, though. She described the enthusiastically bigoted behavior that she witnessed and called it out for what it was. The myth of black super-homophobia doesn’t magically cancel out homophobia when it shows up in groups of straight black people who like to pretend that there are no black LGBT people and that homophobia is mysteriously nothing like racism. And who don’t want to examine how irrational as well as harmful their anti-LGBT arguments are. . . like the exasperated or tone-deaf whites who just don’t want to concern themselves when it comes to anti-black discrimination.

    By the way, I understand feeling shame and embarrassment over anti-LGBT bigotry in black communities or groups, too. Way to hold us all down.

  7. 15

    Seddisaid @7:

    As black people, we love to excuse or deny behavior that is an embarrassment rather than deal with it

    You do realize that’s a big fat generalization that doesn’t apply to many black people, right?

    The original blogger could have done just a bit of research to discover the recent strides Morehouse has done to be more inclusive of our Same Gender loving brothers.

    The advances in one area do not excuse the bigotry in other areas. Ashley did not need to examine all the good that Morehouse students have done to criticize the actions of the bigoted football players.
    Is it necessary for atheists to account for all the good done by theists before they criticize the Westboro Baptist Church for their hatred?
    Is it necessary for anti-racist activists to account for all the good stuff that’s been done by the Washington R*dskins before criticizing the owners’ continued refusal to change the damn name?
    Is it necessary to scour the Internet to find the good things Rush Limbaugh has said before criticizing his sexism and misogyny?

    In case you’ve not figured it out, the answer to all three questions is a big, fat NO.
    Bad behavior should be criticized. Period. Good behavior doesn’t make bad behavior somehow “less bad”. I don’t need to make sure I account for any strides made by Stormfront or A Voice for Men (as if there are any) before I criticize their rampant racism and misogyny. You really ought to rethink this whole “account for the good stuff before you criticize the bad stuff”. The good stuff has nothing to do with the argument being made about how harmful the bad shit is.

    Homophobia in black culture is bigger than Morehouse. It is perpetuated in frats, sororities, and church groups all over the country.

    Yes it is, and nowhere did Ashley hint otherwise. What she did is criticize homophobia that she witnessed. Which is what she’s done before.

    ****

    Mr. C @8:

    I do not believe that the “Appropriate Attire Policy” should be abolished.

    Of course not bc you think people should take your opinions into account before getting dressed. Do you do the same thing? Do you check with the people you interact with on a daily basis to ensure that they’re cool with your shirt, shoes, tie, t shirt, belt, slacks, etc? Or does this only work with regard to those people that make YOU feel uncomfortable?
    I wish you could understand that how people choose to dress is none of your business. It’s about how they choose to express themselves. If you’re uncomfortable with that, that’s a problem with YOU, not them. It might be a different story if, for example, my wearing a dress was directly responsible for causing you harm. But that’s not the case. You’re asking LGBT people to exist on your terms. No, you’re not coming out and literally saying those words, but by telling people that they shouldn’t dress a certain way, you’re saying they need your stamp of approval on their attire, which is some fucking bullshit.

    The policy does not only disallow men dressed in women’s attire, but it disallows sagging pants and wearing gold teeth in your mouth as well.

    Yes, bc all of that is soooo bad. Have you read up on respectability politics yet?

    This past September, during the first week of school, seven-year-old Tiana Parker wore dreadlocks tied in a bright pink bow to her school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Deborah Brown Community School, a charter school sponsored by the historically black college Langston University, sent Tiana home and told her parents that their child was in violation of a school policy prohibiting students from wearing “unusual hairstyles” that distract from the school’s “respectful” learning environment. Not only were “dreadlocks, Afros, Mohawks,” and other so-called faddish styles banned from the school, the school’s handbook also instructed that girls’ “weaved hair should be no longer than shoulder length” and that boys’ hairstyles are “to be short and neatly trimmed.”
    Tiana’s parents withdrew her from the school, leading to public outrage across the nation. The school eventually modified (but did not end) its policy, but its rules regulating the personal conduct of parents and guardians have escaped public scrutiny. According to the handbook, female parents are banned from entering the school or going on field trips braless; male parents are prohibited from wearing pants that sag; vulgarity or cursing by parents is subject to prosecution under the state’s criminal penal codes; and the display of “inappropriate behavior” during school programs—such as holding a crying baby or using a cell phone—can get parents escorted from the school’s premises by security guards. These sorts of rules—devised by black elites, with the backing of the state and the support of ordinary blacks who believe in their efficacy—have their origins in the turn-of-the-twentieth-century black middle-class ideology: the politics of respectability.
    What started as a philosophy promulgated by black elites to “uplift the race” by correcting the “bad” traits of the black poor has now evolved into one of the hallmarks of black politics in the age of Obama, a governing philosophy that centers on managing the behavior of black people left behind in a society touted as being full of opportunity. In an era marked by rising inequality and declining economic mobility for most Americans—but particularly for black Americans—the twenty-first-century version of the politics of respectability works to accommodate neoliberalism. The virtues of self-care and self-correction are framed as strategies to lift the black poor out of their condition by preparing them for the market economy.
    For more than half of the twentieth century, the concept of the “Talented Tenth” commanded black elites to “lift as we climb,” or to prove to white America that blacks were worthy of full citizenship rights by getting the untalented nine-tenths to rid themselves of bad customs and habits. Today’s politics of respectability, however, commands blacks left behind in post–civil rights America to “lift up thyself.” Moreover, the ideology of respectability, like most other strategies for black progress articulated within the spaces where blacks discussed the best courses of action for black freedom, once lurked for the most part beneath the gaze of white America. But now that black elites are part of the mainstream elite in media, entertainment, politics, and the academy, respectability talk operates within the official sphere, shaping the opinions, debates, and policy perspectives on what should—and should not—be done on the behalf of the black poor.

    Just an excerpt. You ought to read the entire article.

    ****

    Walter O. Neal @10 & Juniper @11:
    Well said!

  8. 17

    juniper @13:

    I’m sorry homophobes in this society are treating you like shit.

    Thank you.
    To be honest though, the amount of homophobia I’ve dealt with in my 39 years has been miniscule, especially when compared to what others have been put through. It breaks my heart to hear of kids being kicked out of their homes and had all their resources cut off bc their christian parents refuse to accept them. It pisses me off to hear stories of people who beat or kill trans women. To hear of a disabled lesbian woman being told by her own mother that she wants her daughter to go to hell fills me with unbridled rage.
    These things don’t directly affect me, but because of my empathy, I look at these stories and I sympathize and empathize with the victims.
    That empathy extends beyond just LGBT issues, which is why I blog about homelessness, sexism & misogyny, the abuse of police power and more.

  9. 18

    I hope this helps!

    I thought it did. “Things that do help” was a nice way to finish on a positive note. “Things that don’t help” is very good advice. It was great to hear from you and thanks for the work you do.

  10. 20

    Marcus Lee, my respects – both to you, and for your great response (especially the things-that-don’t-help and that-do-help). Wishing you the best.
    Tony!, great points about the politics of respectability – and Juniper, yes, you are exactly right imo.

  11. 21

    The Great Push Back, there are many people who are rabid over the idea that progressive ideas about sexuality are actually making…progress. These people wear their homophobia as a symbol of pride and try to press the idea that American has been a Theocracy since it’s inception.

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