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NBJC Responds to Anti-LGBT Speech Found on the Campuses of Spelman and Morehouse: Hate Speech is Never Okay!

Washington, D.C. – March 26, 2014 – This week marks the annual LGBTQ Pride Week at Spelman and Morehouse Colleges in Atlanta, Georgia. This year’s theme is “We are Coming Home” and includes a variety of engaging campus events aimed at celebrating the fearless, creative, and resilient spirits of LGBTQ folks of color; promoting the community and alliance building amongst the Atlanta University Consortium’s student body; and most importantly, affirming and taking pride in LGBT identities–-culturally, spiritually, and holistically.

What was clearly meant to be a week of groundbreaking progress on two of the most prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in our nation, has now been stained by several incidents of anti-LGBT speech written on the grounds of both campuses. Earlier this week, members of both Afrekete and Safe Space, Spelman and Morehouse’s LGBT organizations, respectively, received proper approval to decorate and promote Pride Week on the campuses. In the aftermath of the promotion, several anti-LGBT phrases and slurs were found written with chalk on the grounds, expressing religion-based bigotry. These incidents have not only sparked hurt and anger, but also moved the LGBTQ community at Spelman and Morehouse to a point of reflection.

“I want this to be a learning experience about the homophobia that permeates Spelman's campus in hopes that it will create a platform for ways to combat this behavior, and serve as a teaching moment about the importance of diversity and respect on all levels,” says Samantha Allyson Grant, a senior psychology major at Spelman and event planner for the LGBT student organization, Afrekete.

The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the nation’s leading Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, stands in solidarity with both Afrekete and Safe Space members. “As an alumna, and former president of Afrekete, my heart goes out to the LGBT community and its allies for having to bear witness to such egregious acts of hate,” said Je-Shawna Wholley, NBJC’s Programs Manager for its Emerging Leaders Initiative and Special Projects. “The anti-gay rhetoric spurred across the pavement is an example of the dangerous side effects of complacency. I challenge Spelman, Morehouse and every other HBCU in this nation to push pass tolerance and make strides to cultivate a truly affirming environment for LGBT students, faculty and staff.” 

NBJC has worked directly with several HBCUs, including Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and North Carolina Central University, to support their LGBT students and create more welcoming campus climates. With more than 300,000 students, mostly Black and of African descent, HBCUs develop many of Black America’s future leaders. However, the great majority of these institutions lack the resources and support to provide safe and open spaces for the LGBT populations on their campuses. A key pillar to the mission of NBJC is to advocate for the unique challenges and needs of Black LGBT people. This work would be void without heavy emphasis placed on equipping HBCUs with the tools to cultivate more inclusive environments for LGBT students.

“As a proud Morehouse man and former executive officer of Safe Space, the anti-gay messages found this week on my alma mater’s campus are beyond disheartening. Hate speech is never okay, and we must always be vigilant to combat it,” says Isaiah Wilson, NBJC’s External Affairs Manager. “I am so encouraged, though, by the resiliency of the LGBT community at both Spelman and Morehouse. They have shown the utmost integrity and courage in the face of bigotry, and that’s how you breakdown the stronghold of ignorance in our society.”

NBJC has partnered with Campus Pride, a national organization working to create safe environments for LGBT students, to send a cohort of HBCU student leaders to Camp Pride this summer where they will engage in intense LGBTQ inclusion training, supplying the students with tools to foster progress on their campuses. This partnership is an extension of collaboration for the past two years with Campus Pride’s “Stop The Hate!” training. Over $12,000 in funding has been granted to increase the involvement of youth of color, specifically HBCU leaders, in Camp Pride. Based on Campus Pride’s 2010 national college climate study, LGBTQ students of color, especially trans youth of color, are more likely to consider leaving their campus as a result of harassment and negative climate issues.

“I am looking for the administrations of Spelman and Morehouse to act quickly on behalf of their LGBT students. These incidents that have occurred may seem minor to some, but can build on thoughtless behavior and have the capacity to lead to greater issues concerning the safety and well-being of the LGBT community on campus,” says Sharon Lettman-Hicks, NBJC Executive Director and CEO. “We have an obligation as stakeholders investing in the next generation to provide safe, nurturing spaces that uplift all people, regardless of race, class, religion, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. It is essential that we learn to celebrate our differences rather than let them separate us, which will only foster negative outcomes for our community.”

As NBJC celebrates just over 10 years of advocacy and working on the front lines of the movement for justice and equality, it will continue to educate our community and the broader public about the injustices that Black LGBT people face, too often, especially those incidents of bias, hate and violence. All institutions of higher learning will be held accountable by NBJC for the treatment of their LGBT population.  NBJC will always be open to working with the administrations of these institutions to provide them with the tools to make more affirming communities for LGBT students, especially within the HBCU network. 

The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS.