What It’s Like To Be Gay At A Historically Black University

Matthew Gates, a Broadcast Journalism Student at Hampton University, is also one of the organizers of MOSAIC, HBCU's first LGBTQ student alliance.

African American Man Looking At Camera.

Being gay at my HBCU is a bittersweet experience for me. Since birth I was raised with the mentality to be “The Man.” I was taught to not pursue anything that “threatened” my masculinity. Coming out and showing my true colors wasn’t an easy road, but in retrospect I wouldn’t change a thing. Through time I’ve come to understand that the measure of a man is on a broad spectrum not crippled by sexuality.

I was raised in a black household, in a black neighborhood, attended a black church, went to a black school, etc. The black community and the LGBT community have a long way to go. Being gay isn’t nearly as accepted amongst the black community, as it is other communities. My first instinct was not to go to an HBCU, but to go somewhere with more diversity where I would feel more accepted. However, the knowledge and consciousness I saw my siblings walk away from an HBCU with was undeniable, so I gave it a shot.

I first entered my HBCU as a closeted gay male, but I could only keep up that façade for so long. Looking around and seeing no form of gay organization on my campus held me captive in the closet for some time. Post coming out, my social life made a dramatic turn. My male “friends” disowned me. They felt as if being friends with me was threatening to their image. Conversations with my female friends turned from casual to them feeling the need to say “honey” or “slay” at the beginning and end of every sentence. On the other hand, my eyes were opened to a different set of people from whom I gained respect and to whom I’ve learned to respect. These men and women on campus have expressed their respect for me coming out.

Turns out the fear I placed on being gay at my HBCU was all in my head.

Finding other openly gay men here is almost unheard of. There is a presence, but its all discussed in gossip and secrecy. Maybe they are worried about “threatening” their masculinity as I once was, or possibly don’t come from a supportive family? I don’t know the case, but I can validate that there will always be people that support who you are and people that don’t. However it was liberating for me to no longer carry the burden of who I was “hidden in the closet,” on my back. My school in general is filled with accepting staff and students and I have never faced any open form of discrimination.

My experience is still in progress, but so far I can’t complain. For LGBT students entering an HBCU, closeted or open, I encourage you to unapologetically embrace who you are. Your first step on a college campus is like starting a new chapter in your life, make it a good one!