By Shane L. Windmeyer
Originally published on Advocate.com October 23 2009 12:45 PM ET
Morehouse College has it all wrong again.
In what administrators call an effort to uphold the private, all-male university's legacy and reputation, they recently approved a new “Appropriate Attire Policy.” Among typical clothing standards, the policy goes on to state, “No wearing of clothing associated with women’s garb (dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.) on the Morehouse campus or at College-sponsored events.”
Since its inception in 1867, Morehouse College has been a safe learning environment for African-American men, touting a long history of notable achievements and leaders. However, the campus has been plagued with ongoing reports of bias and bigotry when it comes to gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. In 2002, the college witnessed a brutal hate crime in which a Morehouse student sustained a fractured skull at the hands of a classmate. The attacker repeatedly beat his victim on the head with a baseball bat for allegedly glancing at him in the shower. As he was being beaten with the bat, the victim recalled his attacker yelling, "Faggot, you’re gay, gay … I hate these Morehouse faggots.”
For the record, I am all for a dress code when it is meant to create an even playing field among students who may not be able to afford new clothes or designer labels. But the college of Martin Luther King Jr. is not being guided by the principle of social justice and equality among students.
Dr. William Bynum, the vice president of student services, went on record stating, “We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men.”
For a college that prides itself on developing “transformational leaders with a social conscious,” the college has failed once again to live up to such progressive ideals when it comes to LGBT people. Morehouse administrators, including the president at the time of the antigay shower bashing, have readily acknowledged the prevalence of homophobia on campus. Morehouse College, however, has done little since then to address the issue. As quoted, administrators like Bynum still refer to being gay as a “lifestyle” and then reinforce homophobic behaviors with a pseudo concept of masculinity.
As a way to justify the policy, the announcement mentions that the Morehouse Safe Space, the gay student organization on campus, approved the measure by a 24-3 vote. It seems we have become a nation that justifies bias, prejudice, and bigotry by taking a vote. The gay student organization was formed as a “safe space” after the campus hate crime in 2002.
Not sure if Morehouse has noticed, but there have been successful men (both black and white) who have cross-dressed in their lives. Morehouse College has failed to learn its lessons about the true understanding of manhood -- what it means to be a man. The brutality of the shower attack had as much to do with homophobia as with the reinforcement of a false manhood and insecurity. Masculinity is not what defines a man. The days of gender normativity are over, especially when it comes to one’s self-expression among young adults.
What is a “Morehouse Man” -- heterosexual, masculine, straight-acting? Would 15-year-old Lawrence King be admitted to Morehouse College? The young boy wore mascara, lipstick, jewelry, and his favorite pair of high-heeled boots to school many days. He was shot and killed by a 14-year-old classmate in an antigay hate crime.
All men would be better off if they had to wear a dress or walk a day in someone else’s pumps. Morehouse College requires systemic change to live up to the ideals it was founded on. Every student, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression, deserves a learning environment that is safe and welcoming.