Progress should be celebrated, but there’s a danger in allowing that excitement to create a false sense of comfort or push a narrative that concludes we’ve accomplished a lot more than we actually have. David Carr opined last week in the New York Times, “And now that gay marriage is a fact of life, a person’s sexual orientation is not only not news, it’s not very interesting.” Now if only Carr, a straight man speaking on a way of life that alludes him with authority, would wave his magic wand over the Mid-Atlantic and make fetch really happen. I mean, sure. Progress is being made, but we aren’t living in a post-LGBT era just as surely as we aren’t living in a post-racial America.
Morgan State University has opened an investigation into a 20-year-old student’s claims that despite his academic accomplishments and his accolades – including serving as a White House intern – his dreams of joining Morgan’s chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity were dashed because he is gay.
Speaking with the Baltimore Sun, Stewart said of his rejection, “I couldn’t even be angry because I was so hurt.” Stewart went on to say, “I didn’t know I was going to have no control — that my interview meant nothing, my achievements meant nothing, because they had already made up their minds.”
The paper added, “He believes it is because of his sexual orientation, citing social-media messages using an anti-gay slur that someone sent him and told him were between fraternity members.” Stewart says he no longer has interest in pledging the fraternity, but has made a formal complaint in an effort to raise awareness.
Like clockwork, people on social media chimed in, many arguing that these organizations have a right to be selective. Morgan State seems to disagree, with spokesman Jarrett Carter Sr. explaining, “The university doesn’t tolerate or accept any kind of discrimination. It’s something that the university takes very very seriously.” I happen to agree that exclusivity is a right of these sorts of organizations, but if the basis for any selective process proves itself to be rooted in any prejudice, let the public damning commence.
As someone who attended a neighboring HBCU, Howard University, I couldn’t help but think back to homophobia plaguing Howard and other historically Black colleges when I started college in fall 2002. This includes a then 19-year-old Darryl Payton, claiming that he was attacked in the Division of Fine Arts Building by several band members because he was gay. Not long after came the story of Gregory Love, who was beaten in the face, head, shoulders, back and arms with a bat by Aaron Price after allegedly looking at him in the shower earlier that month.
Though there may be far less stories about targeted violence against Black gay men on Black college campuses making national headlines a decade later, LGBT people continue to face discrimination in other forms. Even so, what bothered me about those stories besides the heinous acts themselves was how quick some people were to indict entire schools based on isolated incidents. I’m careful not to do the same thing to Kappa Alpha Psi or any other Black fraternity or sorority now.
Even still, we could all stand to do better when it comes to creating safer spaces for men attracted to other men – particularly in industries and organizations known for emphasizing masculinity and brotherhood.
The accusations of prejudice leveled against the Morgan State chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi are not all that different from those we hear regarding other male-dominated fields. It’s the military, it’s a sports team near you, it’s hip-hop, or just whatever you come across when you step outside your front door.
It’s all too easy to fall into the knee-jerk reaction and dismiss this whole story as “they want to act as if gays don’t exist.” I am not a member so I don’t have enough information to make such an assessment. What I can say, though, that in 2013, it’s plausible for many to believe Brian Stewart’s story. It’s not at all difficult for folks to believe that Black gay men like me can be deemed unworthy to be called brother because I might have a boyfriend.
Any organization that doesn’t want to be perceived to be as a vessel of discrimination should be proactive about proving it as falsehood. They can start by checking whatever members used the word faggot to describe Brian Stewart. Maybe the chapter just didn’t like him. Frankly, from what little I do know about these organizations, they pride themselves on deference – something a media campaign launched by Stewart would be considered an affront to.
We need to continue having necessary and uncomfortable debates about the kind of men that can exist on college campuses like those of Morehouse, and in their case, offer actual courses that educate students to learn how to discuss the topic.
Brian Stewart may never know what the real root of his rejection was, but he knows enough to conclude that certain members believed his sexuality was worth insulting. No matter the debate on exactly which problems need addressing in Stewart’s story, condemning the use of anti-gay slurs against him is a great place to start the debate.