On a campus that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, there is a movement to increase community within GW’s Black population. Organizations such as the Black Student Union, Black Men’s Initiative, and Black Women’s Forum empower Black students and provide a sense of community for an underrepresented group at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). But not every member of GW’s Black population identifies with this community.
Based on information from the US Census Bureau and the Williams Institute, about 1.6 million Black people in the US identify as LGBTQ. This of course does not include those who are not openly out. At GW, there are about 800 Black students, about 200 of whom one could consider “active” members of the community. But what causes those 600 students to not feel drawn to the rest of the community? One explanation could be queer Black students not feeling welcome in many Black spaces or a lack of an environment welcoming those students.
“I don’t really feel comfortable going to a lot of BSU, ASA, or any other [Black] organization events because I don’t feel welcomed by the Black community,” A student who wished to remain anonymous said.
This sentiment is shared with other queer* Black students, some of whom attribute it to not an intentional effort to exclude, but the nature of the spaces that are created for Black students.
“The times I went [to Black organized events] it didn’t seem like a space I’d like to necessarily be in,” Rumi Robinson said, “From my experience, the Black community seems very heteronormative* which just shouldn’t be the case,”
A common space for Black students to congregate is the Multicultural Student Services Center, or the MSSC. The MSSC serves as a safe space for many in the Black population, but also shares a home with the LGBTQ resource center. However, shared location does not always denote intersection.
“You can have a black gay cousin but your cousin can still be homophobic. They can be in the same building but that doesn’t mean they work together,” the anonymous student said.
In February during the Black Heritage Celebration, the MSSC housed an event with Dr. Nikki Lane who conducted a talk about the intersection of Blackness and an LGBTQ identity. The turnout was so successful there was only room to stand. Despite the success of an event directed toward the LGBTQ community, there has not been an event hosted by a Black student organization catered to queer Black students since.
Many of the non-professional Black student organizations at GW primarily cater to cis-gendered* heterosexual students. Because of this, queer members of the Black population feel excluded not just through the environment, but programming.
“I’m not a feminine presenting person, so I don’t feel comfortable around them because I’m not what they promote for,” the anonymous student said.
There are hopes for more recognition and consideration of LGBTQ members of the Black community, and more consistent programming that is welcoming for them.
“They could acknowledge queer people of color because for the most part it’s not brought up or talked about or celebrated,” Robinson said.
While programming could be geared toward queer members of the Black population, some recognize the value in the original meaning of the organizations. Black Men’s Initiative and Black Women’s Forum, for example, empower its members in their identity as a Black person in a society where it is consistently under attack.
“I think the Black Men’s Initiative’s individual membership is really welcoming in general, but I don’t know if there is a strong culture of recognition within the org. To a degree, it sort of reminds me of the phrase ‘do not ask, do not tell.’ Although I’m sure many of the members are open minded, there isn’t a great deal of outreach or connection [to the LGBTQ community],” Quentin McHoes said.
Some believe leadership in these organizations and student organizations in general can better represent this part of the population, and in turn make for a more inclusive and welcoming environment for queer Black students.
“Elect more students who identify as LGBTQ, so that the representation of those students is elevated. The programming simply has to be stronger and more dedicated toward black students who are LGBTQ,” McHoes said.
While the exclusion and isolation of Black LGBTQ students at GW may not be intentional, the effect is still real. However, there still lies the possibility of seeing more representation of queer students within the “active” Black community as organizations begin to think about the next school year.
*Queer is an umbrella term used to describe anyone who is not a cis-gendered heterosexual individual.
*Heteronormative is a descriptor of a frame of mind society or an individual can have. It centers around a heterosexual relationship or sexuality as the norm, excluding other sexual identities as possible or normal.
*Cis-gendered, is a person whose gender identity is congruent with the sex they were born as.
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