Here’s some background and personal thoughts to accompany my recently posted letter to Morehouse administrators.
As some folks are already aware, Morehouse College recently announced a new “Appropriate Attire Policy.” According to CNN, the policy prohibits several things, including “the wearing of “women’s clothes, makeup, high heels, and purses” by members of the all-male student body. In public comments about the policy, Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. William Bynum implied that “about five” students were particularly problematic, in that their wearing feminine attire and “gay lifestyle” did not fit the college’s vision of Morehouse men. This latest incident does not come out of the blue. As Reverend Irene Monroe writes, there has long been tension within the Morehouse community about the possibility of gay or bisexual Morehouse students.
I have seen a few blogs carry this story, as well as CNN. I haven’t yet seen anything in The Chronicle of Higher Education, perhaps because there isn’t anyone in their offices who has the vision to see this as one of the top 10-20 stories in higher education on any given day. Hopefully this will change. The Morehouse gay students’ group, Morehouse Safe Space, hasn’t spoken out against this policy—reports are that they largely supported the new dress code. As a white woman, life-long northerner, and a transsexual woman who constantly has to fight for her right to be included in women’s spaces (and not relegated to men’s ones), I’ve had to overcome my worries about having my voice dismissed on this issue. However, more people need to speak out. Read more…
18 October 2009
Dr. William Bynum
Vice President for Student Services
830 Westview Drive SW
Atlanta, GA 30314
Dear Dr. Bynum:
I hope this letter finds you and the Morehouse College community well. It is in part due to the respect I have for your institution that I am compelled to write to you today in regards to Morehouse’s recently announced “Appropriate Attire Policy.” While I have many personal and professional discomforts with dress codes, I indulge you to consider three issues with the portion of the attire policy that prohibits the wearing of clothing typically associated with women.
First and foremost, I am gravely concerned with the impact of this policy on gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members of the Morehouse community. This policy tells some of your community’s most vulnerable members that they should be ashamed, and that they are not welcome. As an educator, I find this stance counterproductive. As a queer woman, I find any policy that fosters the self-hatred I so often see my brothers and sisters struggling under to be abhorrent. As the Morehouse College administration is well aware, self-hatred is not the only form of violence facing GLBTQ Morehouse students, faculty, and staff. This policy would appear to condone further hostility towards my family at Morehouse, notably the roughly five students you have referred to in public statements. I am as fearful as I am confident that this policy is a step in the wrong direction.
Second, while you are justifiably proud of Morehouse’s tradition of producing leaders of the black community, I ask you to reconsider who that communities includes. When your community included Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., did it also include Bayard Rustin? Does your community include Moses Cannon and his late sister Latiesha Green, who were both shot because a young man objected to who they were, as they sat in a car in our city of Syracuse? Is their family part of your family? LGBTQ people of color have leadership to offer your community. In the face of oppression, they and I need leaders of our own. Will Morehouse graduates provide them?
Lastly, I ask you to consider the economic, psychological, and physical violence that all women, particularly women of color face. Women will not be able to end this violence on our own. The letter of a white, female college professor will not end this violence. In addition to our own collective strength, we need men who are willing to be leaders in their communities. We need Morehouse men. How does a policy that encourages the hatred and fear of femininity and feminine accoutrement bring my sisters and me closer to equality and safety?
I am sure that you have received many passionate pleas on this matter. I anticipate and appreciate your patient consideration of the needs of our respective communities.
Katherine J. Forbes, Ph. D.
CC: Ms. Melissa McEwan
Rev. Irene Moore Monroe
Ms. Monica Roberts
Ms. Pam Spaulding
18 October 2009, 930pm
My apologies to Reverend Irene Monroe for completely and inexcusably getting her name wrong in my initial post. I really do read her online work, and find it troubling that I didn’t get her name correct.
Originally posted at Duck, Duck, Gay Duck the First.