Pride month is a time to celebrate the progress in achieving equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, but we must work to ensure that all members of the LGBTQ+ community receive equality.
Over 50 years have passed since the Stonewall Riots, a movement spearheaded by Black and Brown LGBTQ+ activists to achieve liberation from oppression and persecution. However, current events suggest many Black LGBTQ+ youth have not benefitted from the activism of previous generations. Despite the significant civil and human rights advancements of the past few decades, including the recognition of June as the LGBT History Month by the General Assembly of the National Education Association, not all members of the LGBTQ community feel safe—including on college campuses.
Black LGBTQ+ youth and young adults experience compounded persecution and discrimination due to their dual minority status. Both Black LGBTQ+ youth and adults have poorer mental and physical health outcomes than their Black heterosexual and white LGBTQ+ counterparts Data from the Trevor Project show that Black LGBTQ youth experience depression at a rate two times higher than Black heterosexual youth.
More than one out of three Black LGBTQ youth reported experiencing suicidal ideation, which is part of several adverse mental health outcomes these youth experience, including anxiety and self-harm. These mental health outcomes are a direct result of trauma experienced at the hands of family, friends, and others around them. One study found two out of three Black LGBTQ+ youth were reportedly shamed by their families for their sexual or gender identity, with one in two being openly mocked or taunted by a family member.
Unfortunately, many of these hardships continue well into adulthood. Black LGBTQ+ adults are more likely to report that their health is fair or poor, face housing insecurity, be unemployed, and engage in practices that are likely to worsen their health, like binge drinking and smoking, than their Black heterosexual counterparts.
The disparities in health and lived experiences of Black LGBTQ+ youth and adults underscore a critical need for institutions that serve and engage Black LGBTQ+ individuals to prioritize building resilience, trust, and community. For many LGBTQ+ youth across all races and ethnicities, college is where they begin to explore their sexuality and feel comfortable enough to display their sexuality.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have long been a safe haven for Black college students, but the experience of Black LGBTQ+ students has been mixed at best. Many HBCUs were founded by and in partnership with Black churches, another pillar of the Black community, often adopting the churches’ views on social issues, such as sex and sexuality. A 2016 article published in the Journal of LGBT Youth chronicled the experiences of the Black LGBTQ+ students at HBCUs, their professors, and their peers, providing actionable recommendations to create a community inclusive to all students and staff. Many of the participants in the study cited lack of adequate faculty training and lack of inclusive curriculum as prominent challenges.
The article highlights the impact of avoiding discussions about the LGBTQ+ experience on campus by other (presumably heterosexual) students and faculty, which suggests that adequate training is needed for faculty to foster discussion without discomfort. Students and faculty interviewed for the article agreed school administration is vital to promoting an inclusive and supportive campus climate, which directly and indirectly supports all students’ academic success and well-being.
Over time, tolerance and acceptance have crept into both the Black Church and HBCUs, but in a climate where racial divisions have been brought to the forefront in the U.S, it is now more critical than ever for all places of higher education, but especially HBCUs, to foster a community that is supportive and allied with Black LGBTQ+ students.
As institutions founded on the principle and commitment to the education of Black students, HBCUs must ensure that their campuses, faculty, staff, and students are creating an inclusive, supportive, and transformative environment for all Black students.
authored by Tasia Muse, Fahrenheit Creative Group