Leading the Way: Two HBCU Student Leaders Share their Stories During HRC’s Annual HBCU Leadership Summit | #students | #parents

Why is LGBTQ+ inclusivity on your campus important to you? How does your identity show up in your everyday life and what are you doing to ensure that students with similar life experiences have the space to be who they are?

I grew up in Kentucky, a place where my identity has always been seen as an outcast. When I was younger, I always longed for a place that would completely accept me as I was. In a society where Blackness and queerness are viewed as different and wrong, I have decided to become a changemaker for this.

LGBTQ+ inclusivity is more than important on my campus. It is essential to help me understand myself, my community and how I fit into the world. College is a place where people go to learn more about themselves and the world. To celebrate Blackness is to celebrate queerness. At Kentucky State University, this is no different. Students deserve to have a campus where all parts of their identities are celebrated, included, and treated with respect.

In my everyday life, my identity shows up in two ways: when I walk into a room and when I open my mouth. Being a Black, queer woman, I find that all of my identities are acknowledged when I am open with the world. I choose to share my queerness in my everyday life because it is the part of me that can not be seen on the surface. I believe being myself in my everyday life is vital to my happiness and self-love. I am also willing to take the risk of being judged and excluded based on my identity because it means more to me to be who I am everywhere I go. I want to advocate for myself and others whenever I speak and it requires me to share parts of my identity with the world.

Intersectionality plays a role in how my community shows up in the world and I want to create spaces to highlight this. Black queer people deserve to be and I want to encourage others to fight against discrimination and continue advocating for our community. I aim to help students make their own spaces in their communities that include every part of them as they experience the realities of society.

How has HRC Foundation’s HBCU program and student leadership summit helped your own success both in making change on your campus and supporting you personally?

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s HBCU program has enabled me to become the leader I want to be in the world. Although I am young, HRC sees my potential and continues to facilitate my growth in and outside of the student leadership summit. There are not many institutions or organizations that are devoted to making HBCUs more inclusive. In fact, I was motivated to participate in the leadership program after learning about the impact HRC has made across multiple HBCU campuses.

My campus could benefit from having more courses that discuss gender and sexuality. HRC has introduced me to a network of activists, practitioners, and higher education professionals who have enabled me to advocate for these types of changes on my campus. With HRC’s help, I am confident that change is possible for my campus. I would like to continue building a relationship between Kentucky State and HRC, particularly HRC Foundation’s HBCU program, because my campus does not have many opportunities to learn about queer experiences.

HRC has inspired me to live in my truth. It is more than possible to be Black, queer and successful, despite society’s outlook on my community. At HRC, I have witnessed other successful adults who are actively doing the work I aspire to do. It makes my dreams feel tangible and in reach. I become more passionate about the work I do as I learn more about how HRC connects with my goals. In my lifetime, I have been in radically biased spaces that have belittled me. After working with HRC, these spaces can no longer keep me down.

What challenges do Black LGBTQ+ students like yourself face on campus? What needs to change and how do you envision that change, especially for people with multiply marginalized identities?

One challenge that has been at the forefront of my college experience is lack of education. Students do not have the resources to learn more about themselves, the LGBTQ+ community, and gender/sexuality holistically. Without the proper resources to educate others, queer students become further alienated on campus. It is disheartening to be alienated inside of an institution that is supposedly devoted to educating you. I have personally experienced alienation on campus due to my queer identity. I would like to prevent this from happening to other students as much as I can.

I think another challenge that Black LGBTQ+ students face is a lack of support from the university. This is a direct result of the stigma on HBCU campuses. Students can continue advocating for themselves. However, if there is no support from other communities, it becomes significantly more challenging. Stigma must be addressed on campus to eliminate some of the challenges that Black LGBTQ+ students face.

Sexual health for queer students is rarely discussed. When it is, it typically pertains exclusively to HIV with stigmatized messages. Queer students should be acknowledged by the university to help destigmatize LGBTQ+ experiences, yet my campus has failed to recognize things such as Pride Month and LGBTQ+ History Month. I believe this provides insight to the level of tolerance my HBCU and many others have for their queer students. This is why I am demanding change on my campus.

This year, I have taken the initiative to develop an LGBTQ+ organization on campus to begin change. This will also require the support of student and faculty allies as well. Students with multiple marginalizations face multiple aspects of discrimination, bias, and stigma. These students deserve universal support from my university at all times.

Tell us about your future goals and how you plan to continue the work of championing LGBTQ+ rights for everyone. If there’s one or two takeaways from HRC Foundation’s HBCU program that will help you in future endeavors, what are they?

The first place I felt accepted and loved for my identity was in a queer space. In fact, it was an event designed to support the endeavors of Black LGBTQ+ youth in my community. It exposed me to how the LGBTQ+ community at large is about love. Since this experience, I have been inspired to develop my own community center for Black queer youth. It will be a safe space to facilitate growth and support people who have had similar experiences as me while growing up. I want other individuals to have a space where they feel connected and important. As such, I would like to find ways to provide financial stability, housing, social support, and making sure the needs of Black queer people are met.

During my time at HRC, I have met folks who are devoted to these sorts of endeavors. Those experiences have confirmed for me that the work I am doing matters. Also, HRC has exposed me to pioneers in community organizing and LGBTQ+ leadership. It has helped me visualize exactly what I want to do in the future.

HRC Foundation’s HBCU program has shown me how instrumental young people are to making change. I wanted to participate in this program because HRC has contributed to the success of other HBCU LGBTQ+ changemakers all over. I also foresee myself making a difference in other communities that I’m a part of, such as my community in Louisville, Kentucky. While my hometown is somewhat more accepting of me, I will still use the knowledge I’ve learned from HRC to implement community and legislative change back home.

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