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Historically Black Colleges Celebrate LGBTQ History

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country are among the many institutions and organizations celebrating LGBTQ History Month.
Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, on Feb. 12, 2009.W.A. Harewood / AP file

Tuesday marks the end of LGBTQ History Month, and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country were among the many institutions and organizations to reflect on the community's rich history and honor those who tirelessly fought for LGBTQ equality.

Bowie State University, Maryland's oldest historically black university, invited gay rights pioneer Paul Kuntzler to speak on campus about the connections between the LGBTQ movement and the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.

“Kuntzler was part of the first White House picket for gay rights in 1965,” Horacio Sierra, a professor at the university, told NBC News. “Kuntlzer's visit was a tangible connection to the struggle that the LGBT movement went through in the 1960s and the importance of intersectional activism because the civil rights, feminist, anti-war and LGBT rights movement learned from each other.”

Kuntzler’s talk took place on October 12 during Sierra's Queer Cultural Studies course. Sierra said Kuntzler’s visit led his students to consider how future generations will recall present-day protests.

“It was important to have Paul Kuntzler speak, because, for the most part, this generation has grown up with LGBT rights being affirmed. They need to know about the hard work and perseverance that LGBT pioneers exhibited when the political and social climate was more hostile,” Sierra said. “His visit made them aware of their place in history and his role in our collective history. Now they are thinking about what their place will be in history books when they are older.”

Fayetteville State University (FSU) in North Carolina held a celebratory event on National Coming Out Day (October 11) and hosted a group dialogue where students shared personal stories about being out on campus. The school also held a mixer in September leading up to LGBTQ History Month.

“These type of events ... show that we pride ourselves in addressing the LGBTQ experience at HBCUs, shifting the narrative that is typically described as negative to more positive stories," Brent Lewis, director of the school's LGBTQ-affirming Safezone Program, said.

During the LGBTQ dialogue, according to Lewis, students discussed their coming out stories, their families' support (or lack thereof) of their sexuality, relationships, safe sex, heteronormativity and being out at an HBCU.

Lewis said the school's LGBTQ events have made a big impact on campus, which is why FSU does not limit them to just October.

“We are proud that FSU is a leader in shaping the HBCU experience for LGBTQ students. As this year marks FSUs 150th anniversary, we count the Safezone as one of the many major accomplishments of our institution,” Emily Lenning, an FSU professor and a consultant for the school's Safezone Program, said. “Though we face budget restrictions like most HBCUs, our administration has made our Safezone a priority and continues to explore ways that we can better support our LGBTQ students.”

In the past, according to Lenning, the Safezone Program has sponsored LGBTQ film viewings, out speakers, LGBTQ student panels and social events. The program has also provided transgender competency training to a local middle school.

At some HBCUs, students are spearheading LGBTQ educational efforts on campus. Ramon Johnson, a senior sociology major at Morehouse College in Atlanta, is one of them.

Johnson, president of LGBTQ-affirming group Morehouse Safe Space, hopes to enhance the affirmation of students at Morehouse who represent various genders and sexual identities.

“Some of our efforts include, but are not limited to, the establishment of our Adodi Scholarship for LGBTQ students, executing Pride Weeks, challenging anti-black institutional policies and addressing the mental and sexual health of our community,” Johnson told NBC News. “I am also proud to have helped pioneer the founding of our first resource center for LGBTQ students."

The center Johnson references is the Bayard Rustin Resource Center, named for the black LGBTQ civil rights pioneer.

Lenning of FSU said the core of the LGBTQ History Month efforts at HBCUs is uplifting the community and using its history to continue to learn.

“LGBTQ History Month offers a formal recognition of the many contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer folks and sheds light on the struggles and accomplishments of the fight for equality,” Lenning said. “FSU has lived that purpose by identifying and recognizing the needs of our LGBTQ students and by setting an example for other HBCUs to follow. I think it is especially important to recognize the efforts of HBCUs, [their] important contributions to black LGBTQ history, and [how they] challenge other minority serving institutions to stand on the right side of history.”