Former White House Aide Is Among Those Giving Hope to Black Gay College Students
WHEATON, Md., November 20, 2002 - The recent anti-gay attacks of students on the campuses of two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have left many black gay college students fearful, outraged, and looking for ways to educate their classmates about what it's like being black and gay on campus. A unique organization founded by a black, gay, recent college graduate wants to give these students options-and most importantly, hope.
In January, 2001, David Neale founded Black Lavender Resources, a public relations and diversity consulting firm that helps educate the public about black gays, lesbians, bisexuals, same-gender-loving, and transgender (LGB/SGL/T) people. The firm's Speakers & Artists Division works with six of the country's top black gay and lesbian speakers and artists to help colleges, universities, and other organizations explore the realities of diversity. Through their work, the speakers, artists, and Neale-a black, gay graduate of Brown University's class of 2000-have already had a particularly strong impact on black gay college students.
"David Neale taught me so much about black gay life," said J.C. Smith, a black gay student at Rutgers University. "He taught me the coping skills and strategies that I will need to be able to deal with the inevitable battles ahead."
Gloria Bigelow, a black lesbian student at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, provided similar comments about another Black Lavender speaker - former White House special assistant Keith Boykin.
"Keith has a very clear understanding of many of the issues facing the black LGBT community, and specifically how race & sexual orientation intertwine," said Bigelow.
As special assistant to President Bill Clinton, Boykin served as a key liaison and spokesperson between the White House and the African American and gay media. As the highest-ranking openly gay person, Boykin helped organize and participated in the nation's first meeting between gay and lesbian leaders and a U.S. president. He later served for 2 1/2 years as the executive director of the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum, a nationwide nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower the black LGBT community.
"Currently there is a lack of information and knowledge about black gays and lesbians," said Boykin, who gives 25-30 speeches each year to college, university, business, and government audiences across the country. "Although celebrities like Rosie O'Donnell and TV shows like 'Ellen' and 'Will & Grace' have attracted the public's attention about gays and lesbians, black gays and lesbians remain largely invisible."
Boykin said he was "troubled and disappointed" upon hearing about the recent anti-gay attacks on two students at HBCUs-one openly gay student at Howard University in September (see "Anti-Gay Attack Is Alleged at Howard U." by Amy Argetsinger, Washington Post, 9/6/02), and another student at Morehouse College who was attacked earlier this month because he was perceived to be gay (see "College Beating Stirs Up Concerns" by Paul Donsky, Andrea Jones, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/12/02).
"These are two of our finest schools, producing some of our greatest black leaders. If homophobia is becoming violent on these campuses, it does not bode well for our future. All of us would do well to pay attention, listen, learn, and work to develop a healthier, more embracing community," said Boykin.
Other black gay and lesbian speakers and artists working with Black Lavender Resources include feminist scholar and activist Barbara Smith (The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom), performance artist Sharon Bridgforth (The Bull-Jean Stories), economic and racial justice activist Ingrid Rivera, and former union organizer Siobhan Brooks.
All joined the bureau within the past year. Their lectures and performances aim to help students, as well as faculty members and staff, broaden their understanding of diversity. According to Sterling Washington, president of the Bisexual, Lesbian, and Gay Organization of Students at Howard University, that means a lot.
"There is a misperception that if you're gay, you have to be in the closet in the professional world," said Washington, who invited Boykin to speak to his group. "It was helpful for us to see someone openly gay and comfortable with his sexuality."
In response to the attack on a gay student at Howard in September, Washington's organization is currently trying to arrange sensitivity training for the campus, as well as get a campus police officer assigned as a liaison to LGBT students.
"HBUCs have been behind the curve in addressing LGBT issues because their focus has been elsewhere," said Washington. "Of course, that needs to change."
Speakers and Artists Give Hope to Black Gay College Students November 20, 2002