Homos 101

Premier Black College Is a Study in Anti-Gay Discrimination

In retrospect, Gregory Love's only mistake may have been leaving his glasses in his dorm room.

On the morning of November 3, the Morehouse College junior entered the unlit first-floor bathroom of Brazeal Hall to shower before church. Heading for the last stall, he glanced into one occupied by sophomore Aaron Price. Love, who is nearsighted, would later testify that he at first thought Price was his roommate and started to say hello. According to him, the underclassman shouted, "I hate Morehouse and I hate all these faggots!"

Realizing his mistake, Love apologized and took the next stall. Only those two men know exactly what happened next.

According to published reports, Price left and came back minutes later with a 26-inch baseball bat, bashed Love at least seven times on the head, back, and shoulders, and left him on the floor. After searching briefly for pieces of his four chipped teeth, Love somehow made his way to the campus infirmary, in the basement. He would later undergo emergency brain surgery to remove a near fatal blood clot, and he left the hospital with a seven-inch scar along the left side of his head and the likelihood of a lifetime suffering headaches, seizures, and possible memory loss.

Price was arrested the next day, and the Atlanta college expelled him. In June he was sentenced to a pair of 10-year sentences, to be served concurrently, for aggravated assault and battery. Love, who couldn't be reached for comment, has testified that he's straight; the jury found Price not guilty of a hate crime. "I was scared," Price told the court. "I was embarrassed because I was naked and he was looking at me." On July 2, his lawyers filed a motion for a new trial, saying the evidence did not support the verdict.

The incident may have shocked some at the nation's only all-male, predominantly African American college, but it was no surprise to gay students there. For them, taunting and the threat of physical violence are part of everyday life. In the months to come, they would discover that not even such a brutal assault could open the eyes of the vast majority of students, faculty, and administrators.

On April 7, after months of student forums and blue-ribbon panels on the issue, the Morehouse College Task Force on Tolerance and Diversity turned to alumni for guidance, e-mailing graduates a questionnaire titled "Survey of Attitudes and Behaviors Toward Homosexuality." An accompanying letter from President Walter Massey said the college wanted to find ways to "ensure a safe and supportive environment for all students—straight and gay."

The questions themselves—now posted at New York author Keith Boykin's website (keithboykin.com)—suggest otherwise:

"How far should Morehouse go to separate heterosexuals and homosexuals in the residence halls?"

"To what degree do you think homosexuality is immoral?"

"How much does Morehouse's reputation for enrolling homosexual men affect your pride in the College?"

"How much should Morehouse allow students to be open about their homosexuality on campus?"

For a historically black school with a reputation for attracting gay students to raise the specters of segregation and the closet was almost more shocking than the original assault. The questionnaire results were originally expected in June, but college officials wouldn't say when the information will be ready, nor would Massey provide any comment. That's not surprising, considering the uproar the survey has caused.

"It's sad in that they had an opportunity, as an educational institution, to bring about healing," says William Peters, former executive director of the national group Gay Men of African Descent. "To separate [straight and gay students], like a quarantine? It almost smacks of that."

Other HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) have wrestled with the problem of students being attacked or harassed for their sexual orientation—real or imagined—but with very different results.

Following an attack on a gay student by members of the Howard University marching band in September, campus police at the Washington, D.C., school initiated training to help its officers identify possible hate crimes. Two campus cops were appointed to serve as liaisons, and they have been regular visitors to LGBT campus meetings. In April, school administrators named the LGBT organization as student organization of the year.

Morehouse has its own fledgling LGBT group, Safe Space, started last year as a response to the attack; efforts to launch a similar collective several years before met with resistance from college administrators.

Peters says Morehouse needs to recognize that many of its students are in fact gay and do in fact live up to the school's stated objective—to produce strong black men. "I don't think the black community is any more homophobic than another," he says. "I really don't. But it is the last acceptable form of discrimination. You can't go around saying nigger, wop, stuff like that, at least not in public. But you can go around calling people faggot, and it's accepted."

Sometimes the harassment extends beyond mere words. At Johnson C. Smith University, the African American Alliance for Gay & Lesbian Education (also known as A3) is one of the most active and vocal groups. That did not stop a student from threatening to shoot A3's founder as he walked on the Charlotte, North Carolina, campus with his boyfriend.

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