A version of this story appears in The Tenth Zine.
Morehouse College was founded in 1867 with the sole mission of educating black men. Today, it is still the only institution of higher education with such a purpose. Thousands of students have matriculated through the college over the years, entering as Men of Morehouse and graduating as Morehouse Men. Some, perhaps many, have been gay. It's a fact that shouldn't be met with much fanfare but, for some reason, the idea of a queer presence at Morehouse seems to both titillate and terrify.
And, from time to time, certain stories about queer life at Morehouse emerge into public discourse. In 2002, a student was beaten with a baseball bat by a classmate who claimed he'd looked at him in the communal showers. Just seven years later, the school again made headlines when it instituted a dress code banning women's attire. Soon after, Vibe magazine published an article, "The Mean Girls of Morehouse," profiling the experiences of four gender-nonconforming students. Tongues wagged.
How is that one small liberal arts college could garner so much attention? Other schools have alleged hate crimes. Others must struggle to adequately address the presence of LGBTQ students. Certainly, but they're not Morehouse. Ultimately, Morehouse's narrative is inextricably tied up in that of black men in general and, to some degree, what the public at large thinks about the college, its students and alumni can't be separated from how it feels about black men and queer black men more specifically.
In all, the queer experience at Morehouse is too vast to be squeezed into headlines. It is as varied as the students who live it and, perhaps, only they can put it into words. Five current students talked to The Tenth to discuss everything from dating and friendship to homophobia and finding allies at Morehouse.
Jared Loggins, senior political science major from Memphis, Tennessee:
The school still has a lot of work to do to dismantle some of these dominant heteronormative narratives that are still really problematic and work to silence queer students on campus. Small things like, during student orientation, you hear all these things about “Don’t date your Spelman sister” and whatnot. That’s a problem for a student who want to be openly affirmed by his college community.
The whole idea of a “Man of Morehouse” has changed in recent years in ways that incorporate a wider range of expressions of masculinity. Still, you see the college in a position where it struggles to stand behind different types of Morehouse Men. There are certainly gay Morehouse Men who've gone on to do great things that we don’t celebrate or talk about.
Timothy Tukes, sophomore english and spanish double major from Covington, Georgia:
I think the college does an excellent job at producing men who want to be leaders, men who are enterprising, who are innovative, men who fit the part. Morehouse has historically done a good job of producing the go-to exceptional...black man. That person though is always cisgendered, heterosexual, masculine, and respectable to some extent. Where I fit in that, though, is something that doesn’t cross my mind. I don’t try to wrap myself around this idea of a Morehouse Man. I’m a student here. I’m here to learn, not be molded into a model or made whole.
Ean McCants, freshman international studies major from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:
I went to a predominately white high school. There were maybe eight black kids in my class, so I wanted to attend an HBCU to be around other black people.
I didn’t know that much about the school, just that it was an HBCU. I looked up what kind of programs Morehouse offered for queer students and I read all about the new SafeSpace group. So, I reached out to members through social media. We talked and I was convinced, I guess. I never felt that type of community before. It sealed the deal for me.
Even so, I was actually pretty nervous about coming here and it was a bit of a culture shock when I arrived. I wasn’t sure how to interact with people, what to say or what to do. It is an all-male school and I’d never interacted with so many men all at once before. So far, it’s good though. My roommate is straight and he’s cool. I was worried about that, getting a roommate that didn’t accept me. And, for the most part everyone else has been all right. I mean, there have been a few occasions where I’ve overheard things that were questionable but I haven’t had any sort of homophobia directed at me on campus.
Timothy: Many Morehouse students, including those who are queer, come from predominantly white neighborhoods and schools. So, many of us are attracted to the school because of the rich experience of being around all of these black people.
Coming from Covington, Georgia and always being the only black person, one of my highest values in picking a college was being around people who were black. I wanted to be somewhere where people weren’t shocked by my presence or didn’t question it. That’s a privilege of the HBCU experience.
When I was applying to college, I can say that I didn’t think much about what the experience would be like as a queer person. That’s something that I think became more pressing once I got here.
Jared: I’m managing editor of The Maroon Tiger, the school paper, and that means I’m very active on campus and in position where I have to interact with the student body on a daily basis. People send critiques and criticism sometimes. I got an email some time last year where someone wrote to me that they felt like the paper was becoming a gay organization.
I’m also a resident advisor on campus and just recently my residents were in the lobby having a conversation about sexuality. One of the guys was like “I don’t feel like homosexulaity is natural and I think gays are cursed and going to Hell.” I was oddly taken aback. It was weird for me because I'm naturally the type to engage, but I was mortified. I guess for the first time in a long time, I’d come face to face with someone who felt like my existence was a defect. it actually hurt me in ways that I didn’t think it would.
Combatting those types of things, while still building relationships, is tough but I think I’ve done that pretty well. I try to whenever I can.
Bummah Ndeh, junior accounting major from Silver Springs, Maryland:
I actually have become more comfortable with myself because of the people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had at Morehouse.
I think there are certain students who are homophobic but, as an institution, Morehouse has done a lot to embrace the gay community here and has made efforts to support us. They’ve helped us in putting together Pride Week and have showed up to the events. There are, for sure, things that the college could do better but Morehouse isn't a homophobic institution in my opinion.
Jared: You hear a lot about Morehouse’s transphobic dress code or Morehouse having a lot of gay or DL students, that the college is homophobic. My own experience has been contrary to that perception. A lot of that could be because I’ve worked hard at trying to insulate myself from a lot of things. It also could be that I’m relatively ambiguous, if that’s the right word to use. I had a friend who graduated recently and his experience was altogether different, I think, because he’s kind of fem. There are certain folks at Morehouse, in the administration, who just don’t mess with that.
Kyere' Wright, junior psychology major from Memphis, Tennessee:
First semester here, I dyed my hair platinum blond. Since, it’s been purple, black, red. I stick out. I’m visibly queer, maybe not in general but especially in this space and that definitely impacts my experience.
Jared: I came out to my family in high school and I remember when I first got to Morehouse my mom told me that she ultimately wanted me to be happy and safe and in an environment where I felt supported. She had reservations about me being in a place where there could potentially be hostility toward me because of my sexuality. I can’t speak for anyone else but I've always felt like Morehouse has been supportive.
Timothy: I don’t know if the overall campus community here is accepting or just indifferent and I think it’s important to make that distinction. And there are open, accepting allies here but I think that comes down to statistics. When there are a lot of black males in one place, you’re bound to find black men who respect you beyond sexuality. It’s something i’m grateful for.
Jared: And then there’s Atlanta. Atlanta is a great place to be young, black and gay.
Bummah: Everywhere you go in the city there are openly gay people. I’m from right outside of D.C. and it’s a pretty liberal area but the sheer concentration of black people in Atlanta is what makes the experience so different. I feel like I’m more of myself in Atlanta.
Kyere': Being a Morehouse student in Atlanta gives you a little something extra because of the reputation of the school and whatever ideas folks have tied to it. For the most part, it’s good. I dated someone before who I brought on campus and it was definitely clear that it was a thing for him to be here. He was posting pictures to Instagram. I guess Morehouse groupies exist. I think I’d be lying to say that we don’t experience that or trade on it to some degree.
Jared: I was a restaurant in Midtown recently and there was group of gay guys sitting at a table near me and my friend. They were behind me and I heard one of the guys like, “Oh that used to be your type” to his friend, who replied, “Oh! they must be from Morehouse.” I don’t know what that means. I haven’t taken the time to really sit down and really analyze those types of experiences in Atlanta, but they’re not uncommon.
Kyere': I was out to my family in high school. They, to some degree, would let me be myself. So, by the time I got to Morehouse, I was already pretty comfortable with myself. That made it really difficult to date on campus because people were dealing with all of these questions that I didn’t still have. I dated some guys who were afraid for us to be seen in public or didn’t feel comfortable themselves and that was hard. It’s my philosophy now that it’s better to not date on campus.
Jared: I’ve had a few boyfriends since I’ve been in college. You know, gay relationship are already in dog years, plus, we’re in a bubble. Everybody wants everybody. Dating on campus hasn’t been successful for me. I have a different set of values I think than a lot of guys.
Kyere': The good thing about dating other Morehouse students is, of course, proximity. Campus is small and only takes us a few minutes to get to each other. And the school is full of fine, motivated black men. That’s a plus. The downside is being inside this bubble.
Bummah: I was nervous about being thrown into an all-male environment, where everyone would be talking about sports and girls. That was a concern for me but I made a lot of friends immediately. Of course, I naturally gravitated to other students who were gay. Some were out, some weren’t, but we found eachother.
My closest friends still are guys that who were in my freshman dorm, who were gay. Those friendships blossomed and I really appreciate the opportunity to have them.
There are some people here who are very vocal allies to the gay community. Others aren’t but are still friendly and that’s cool too. Even still, I have few very close friends who are straight. That could be because of a number of reasons like -- having differents interest, for example. My concern though has always been about building friendships and community with other gay men because I missed out on that prior to college. It’s something I really value.
Kyere': Morehouse is so peculiar because it’s the only school of it’s kind. There are no other schools for just black men. Because we’re it, we pull in the conservative and progressive, the gay and straight, the religious and the secular. There aren’t many schools that have to provide so much.