ATLANTA, Ga. (AP) –The country’s only all-male historically black college will begin admitting transgender men next year, marking a major shift for the school at a time when higher education institutions around the nation are adopting more welcoming policies toward LGBT students.
Leaders of Morehouse College told The Associated Press that its board of trustees approved the policy on Saturday.
Transgender men will be allowed to enroll in the school for the first time in 2020. Students who identify as women but were born male cannot enroll, however, and anyone who transitions from male to female will not be automatically eligible to receive a degree from the institution.
Morehouse officials hailed the move as an important step toward a more inclusive campus while affirming its mission to educate and develop men.
“I think Morehouse having the courage to speak to issues of masculinity in today’s environment is important,” Morehouse College President David Thomas told The Associated Press. “For 152 years, the world has, in some way, seen Morehouse as the West Point of black male development.”
Morehouse is an iconic college that counts the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., filmmaker Spike Lee and former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson as its alumni. It bills itself as the “college of choice for black men” that has instilled leadership skills in generations of African American men.
More than 1,000 colleges and universities around the country have adopted some form of a transgender policy, including about two dozen historically black colleges. An increasing number of schools are updating admissions guidelines to ensure that transgender students have a welcoming experience, said Human Rights Commission spokeswoman Sarah McBride.
“Young people are incredibly supportive of LGBT equality, including transgender,” McBride said. “Schools are responding in kind. In many ways, our college campuses look like the country we’ll have in 10 or 15 years. There are a lot of reasons for hope.”
Morehouse becomes the first standalone all-male college in the country to adopt a transgender policy. Nationwide, there are only two other all-male colleges, Wabash College in Indiana and Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Minnesota’s St. John’s University, which enrolls only men but shares a co-ed academic program with the College of St. Benedict, also has a transgender policy.
Morehouse has had challenges around LGBT issues, most notably the 2002 attack of a 19-year-old student accused of beating a fellow student with a baseball bat who he mistakenly thought was making a sexual advance.
Gregory Love’s skull was fractured in the beating. Aaron Price was found guilty of assault and initially sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The incident was widely seen as reflective of a larger and pervasive attitude toward the LGBT community among African Americans.
Thomas acknowledged that historically black colleges and universities – mainly established after the Civil War with the help of religious institutions like the Baptist and Methodist churches – face added challenges in addressing issues of gender and sexuality because of opposition in black churches.
“I can’t speak for all HBCUs, but we know in the black church there has largely been silence on this issue,” Thomas said. “I can imagine there may be people who would say, ‘Why would you even raise this?’ I say to those people we live in an era now where silence on these issues is actually not helpful. For us, as a school for men, it’s important for us to set clear expectations about what that means. That’s what we’re trying to do with this policy.”
In 2009, the college updated its dress code, in part to address a handful of students who were wearing women’s clothing on campus. The following year, Morehouse held its first Gay Pride. Morehouse offered its first LGBT course in 2013 and has a scholars program named for civil and gay rights icon Bayard Rustin.
Spelman College, an all-woman HBCU next door to Morehouse, adopted a transgender policy in 2017, and the first transgender woman graduated in 2018.
Other HBCUs with transgender policies include Tuskegee University, Howard University, Florida A&M University, Southern University in Louisiana, North Carolina Central University and Morgan State University in Maryland.
Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness Comes Out As Nonbinary
Jonathan Van Ness, the grooming guy from the Netflix makeover show Queer Eye, recently came out as nonbinary, clarifying that “he prefers he/him pronouns, but does not identify as a ‘man.’”
As a child, Van Ness used to put on his mother’s makeup, high heels and scarves while playing in his family’s basement, but he never felt he could wear such things to school where he was bullied for being different.
“I didn’t really put [my dressing] that together with ‘gender nonconforming’ or ‘nonbinary’ or owning that as an identity until recently,” Van Ness said. He continued:
He said the visibility of social media has shown people the options they have for expressing their own gender and added that most of his role models are women including his mother, grandmother and pop divas like Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, Shania Twain, and Mariah Carey.
What does it mean to be non-binary?
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), non-binary and genderqueer identity are labels that refer to people who “don’t identify with any gender” or whose “gender changes over time.” The word non-binary literally means someone whose gender falls outside of the male-or-female binary.
The NCTE points out that non-binary people have existed in societies throughout world history, not all non-binary people get gender-affirmation surgeries and non-binary isn’t the same thing as being trans or intersex (although some trans and intersex people do identify as non-binary or genderqueer).
The organization also says that allies should be respectful of non-binary and genderqueer people’s chosen names and pronouns, recognizing that they don’t need to “understand what it means for someone to be non-binary to respect them.” Most of all, allies should advocate for policies that allow non-binary people to live, dress and have their gender expression respected at work, at school and public spaces, especially bathrooms.
“There’s no one way to be non-binary,” the NCTE writes. “The best way to understand what it’s like to be non-binary is to talk with non-binary people and listen to their stories.”
(Reporting by Queerty)
Connecticut Lawmakers Move To Ban ‘Gay Panic Defense’
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Criminal defendants in Connecticut would be barred from claiming as their sole legal defense that they panicked after learning about their victim’s sexual orientation.
The state House of Representatives approved legislation Tuesday preventing defendants from using the so-called gay panic defense. That defense blames a violent reaction on discovering a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
The legislation already cleared the Senate and now moves to the governor.
Defense attorneys unsuccessfully attempted to use the “gay panic defense” in the case of Matthew Shepard, the college student beaten to death by two men in Wyoming in 1998. The judge would not allow it, and those men were convicted.
Supreme Court Rejects Appeal Over Transgender Bathrooms
On May 28, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by teenagers in Pennsylvania who opposed a school district policy allowing students to use the locker rooms and bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. As CNN reports, the Supreme Court’s decision to leave a lower court’s ruling in place means that Boyertown School District’s current policy, which allows transgender students to choose which facilities they use, will stay in place.
Reuters reports that the six students opposing the policy argued that allowing their transgender peers to use the bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity would be in violation of Title IX and privacy. The students are represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization that is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC calls the firm “one of the most influential groups informing the administration’s attack on LGBT rights.”
According to CNN, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that “forcing a teenager to share a locker room or restroom with a member of the opposite sex can cause embarrassment and distress.” Boyertown School District’s policy allows students to choose which bathrooms they use on a case by case basis; before a student is allowed to use a facility with a label that differs from the gender they were assigned at birth, they are required to meet with a guidance counselor.
Lawyers for the school district say that they have this policy in place because they believe “that transgender students should have the right to use school bathroom and locker facilities on the same basis as non-transgender students.”
The Supreme Court issued their decision without comment, but many people are viewing the court’s rejection of the appeal as the latest positive development in a nationwide legal battle for transgender rights. In a tweet on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that the Supreme Court’s rejection of the appeal is a “victory for trans students and educators nationwide.”
“Boyertown’s schools chose to be inclusive and welcoming of transgender students in 2016, a decision the courts have affirmed again and again,” the ACLU added in a statement to CNBC. “This lawsuit sought to reverse that hard-won progress by excluding transgender students from school facilities that other students use. That would have increased the stigma and discrimination that transgender students already face.”
The rejection of the plaintiffs’ appeal comes as the Trump administration continues to roll back anti-discrimination protections for transgender Americans. Back in February 2017, the administration removed an Obama-era guidance that encouraged schools toallow students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that corresponded with their gender identity. More recently, on April 12, the Supreme Court upheld a Trump policy that bans people who identify as transgender from serving in the armed forces, which will affect an estimated 14,700 troops, according to the Palm Center.
And on May 24, the administration announced that it plans to remove Obama-era protections against transgender people seeking medical care, by removing gender identity from discrimination “on the basis of sex.” In response, the National Center for Transgender Equality called the proposal “an escalation of its dangerous attacks against transgender people.”
(Reporting by Mic)
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