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Emerging Scholars Column
Activism in Action: White House Welcomes LGBT HBCU Students
By Michael Evans, Winston-Salem State University
I have been an active participant in social justice issues surrounding the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community for three years. The LGBT community is plagued by a number of challenges that are reinforced through multifaceted issues of power, privilege, inequality, and discrimination. My advocacy work centers on increasing student engagement in eliminating health disparities among members of the LGBT community. Most recently I have been focusing on the growing incidence of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, in LGBT college students. I am a lead peer health educator in the Office of Student Development on the campus of Winston-Salem State University. I, along with other peer health educators, have been working tirelessly to bring attention to the staggering rates of infection and provide prevention education to our students. Additionally, I am working with the WSSU Gay Straight Student Alliance (WSSU GSSA) to champion the addition of Non-Discrimination policies (focusing on LGBT individuals) into the WSSU constitution. One of my ultimate goals is for our advocacy work to serve as a model for students at other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
In the fall of 2009, I had an opportunity to represent the WSSU GSSA at the Equality North Carolina Conference at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Much to my surprise Mr. Brian Bond, Director of Public Engagement at the White House, was a participant in this forum. Mr. Bond was astounded at the work focusing on student diversity we were doing on campus and in the community. Based on this meeting, I received an invitation to the White House as a representative of LGBT students at HBCUs. I was a witness to the signing of President Obama’s executive order, “Promoting Excellence, Innovation, and Sustainability at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” Needless to say I was inspired and humbled by President Obama’s acknowledgment and recognition of the work that we are doing to raise awareness about these social justice and human rights issues.
Student participation in this historic event was co-sponsored by the National Black Justice Coalition and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Both are national and international advocacy organizations focused on justice and equality for LGBT individuals. When I arrived in Washington I was greeted by the staff of HRC-DC chapter and was given a personal tour of their offices. We engaged in conversation around disparities on HBCU campuses and then proceeded to the White House where we met a number of key civil rights leaders. President Obama walked in and congratulated the invited students on our community efforts. This personal meeting and brief dialogue with President Obama motivated me to continue challenging the harmful homophobic views of many individuals, and helped to solidify a new platform to make a stand for equality and recognition of LGBT students. I continue to be enthused and focused on addressing psychological and social issues impacting LGBT college students. It is my belief that issues such as low and often-depleted self-esteem, prejudice, and discrimination, greatly impact the academic success of LGBT students on college campuses. I am deeply appreciative of all of the encouragement I have received from faculty, students and administrators from my university, and other HBCUs, who have supported me in this journey.
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