Welcoming Homosexual Lifestyles at Historically Black Colleges and Universities Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Black Colleges Homosexuality

In order to create more egalitarian, prosocial, and productive campus environments, it is necessary to understand attitudes toward homosexuality and homosexual students. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students experienced relatively high rates of substance abuse, depression, and stress related to discrimination, difficulties forming social relationships, and low self-esteem (Heck, Flentje & Cochran, 2011). As Kirby (2011) points out, "Having a negative self-concept plays a major role in youth suicides, in how well one does in school, and in how one interacts with society at large." Therefore, the need for a more supportive social environment on college campuses is a pressing one.

Unfortunately, traditionally white universities and historically black universities in the United States have addressed the needs of the LGBT student community differently. Historically black colleges and institutions are defined as "institutions classified as higher education that were chartered prior to 1964 and created with the principal mission of serving African-Americans," (Kirby, 2011). Homophobic social landscapes are more common on the campuses of historically black vs. white colleges and universities in the United States for clear reasons. That is, many white universities boast robust structural supports for the LGBT student body and staff; no such structural support system exists at historically black colleges and universities. "Although a handful of HBCUs have LGBT student organizations that provide support to their peers and antidiscrimination policies that cover sexual orientation and gender expression, not a single school offers an institutionalized, full-time center or coordinator that provides resources and support to students," (Kirby, 2011)

Race impacts attitudes toward homosexuality on school campuses across the nation. Kirby (2011) traces the differential attitudes to the entrenchment of the Black churches in the lives of young people. Although black churches have provided beacons of spiritual and psychological hope for many African-Americans, these core social institutions have also bred an intolerant homophobic ideology that permeates student consciousness on historically black campuses. As a result, "The Black church, high rates of suicide, and fear of hate crimes are issues that the Black LGBT community grapples with and that contribute to the negative campus climate of HBCUs for LGBT," (Kirby, 2011).

Research Problem

Homophobia causes major problems on school campuses, including assault, psychological abuse, stress, and suicide. Poor academic performance, poor physical and mental health, absenteeism and dropping out are some of the potential impacts of homophobia too. Kirby (2011) points out, "Although HBCUs have been a beacon of hope for thousands of African-Americans for decades, they have also been a source of great pain to hundreds of students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender." Homophobia creates an environment of intolerance and prejudice that has no place on the campuses of historically black colleges and universities.

Systematic support networks and structures for LGBT students and staff are required to create a more egalitarian environment that fosters student well-being, social engagement, trust, and high academic achievement. Structural supports can and should be supplemented by less formal social support networks such as student organizations and chapters of national clubs and groups like gay-straight alliances. Such student support networks offer "unparalleled opportunities for inclusion, protection, personal growth, self-discovery, and retention." (Kirby, 2011).


Although this research is exploratory in its design, there are several core hypotheses as follows. First, it is hypothesized that homophobia is the normative ideology of a historically black college in the United States, meaning that most LGBT students have experienced some form of discrimination that causes them to want to remain secretive about their sexuality. Second, it is hypothesized that homophobia is linked to negative outcomes, including but not limited to the experience of stress or abuse. Third, it is hypothesized that access to a Gay Straight Alliance mitigates the negative effects associated with homophobia.

Significance of the Research

If it can be demonstrated empirically that access to Gay Straight Alliances mitigates the negative effects associated with homophobia, then the administrators and leaders of historically black universities and colleges in the Untied States should aggressively promote these alliances. Moreover, the success of Gay Straight Alliances may lead to the opening of other major LGBT support groups on campus, to create a climate of tolerance. The more LGBT organizations become visible on campus, the more likely the campus culture and climate will change to become more egalitarian in the true spirit
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of historically black colleges and universities. The implications for the research are therefore organizational and individual: the LGBT individuals will benefit from decreased stress, decreased fear or experiences of abuse, and increased academic performance. The universities will subsequently reap the rewards of a healthier, happier student body with fewer dropouts.

Literature Review

A review of literature shows that students' choice of college may be linked to the school's perceived openness towards LGBT students and LGBT issues. Burleson (2010), for example, found that LGBT high school students indicated that tolerance toward LGBT issues was a significant factor in the decision to apply for or attend a university. Likewise, Burleson (2010) found that college students had chosen their respective university based on their perception of tolerance, and the easy of coming out on campus. This means that historically black colleges and universities risk losing valuable applicants. If white universities are known for being more tolerant and less homophobic, then an African-American gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered individual might decide to sacrifice the opportunity to attend a historically black institution. This would be doing a great disservice to both the historically black university system and to the students themselves.

Research also shows that a campus more tolerant of LGBT issues is more likely to welcome LGBT staff, which promotes a more cohesive and egalitarian climate on campus. By hiring LGBT staff, the school is taking great strides toward institutionalizing tolerance. For example, Eisen & Hall (1996) found that students perceived their LGBT teachers as offering an invaluable opportunity to think critically and approach subjects from alternative points-of-view. Students responded particularly well to their LGBT instructors, which expanded opportunities for learning. Opportunities for learning included the ability to teach students about issues directly related to LGBT issues such as the experience of discrimination, which is relevant to the curriculum and pedagogy on historically black university and college campuses.

In addition to hiring LGBT staff, historically black colleges and universities may need to pursue the presence of Gay-Straight Alliances on campus. Heck, Flentje & Cochran (2011) found that Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) functioned extremely well on high school campuses, improving the school's overall atmosphere toward LGBT issues and eliminating discrimination. Zero tolerance for abuse, bullying, or other injustices is one of the goals of GSA interactions with school administrators. Although there have yet to be studies demonstrating a direct causal relationship between the presence of GSA and rates of abuse, depression, substance abuse, and suicide, Heck, Flentje & Cochran (2011) find the results are significant enough to warrant the encouragement of GSAs on all campuses. Research by Longerbeam, Kurotsuchi-Inkela, Johnson & Lee (2007) shows that peer support groups on campus may be the single most important factor in shaping student attitudes and beliefs. This is true for heterosexual students as well as homosexual students. The GSA model is built on the fact that the attitudes of heterosexual students toward their homosexual counterparts are the important variable to focus on in future research.

If GSA is a mitigating factor between the stress of homophobia and the achievement of student goals, then research has revealed other mitigating factors that are important to address. For example, Olive (2010) found that a "clear sense of identity" ensures the confidence and self-esteem necessary for success (p. 197). In this qualitative research design, Olive (2010) interviewed six LGBT individuals who graduated from university and offered keys to their personal success in overcoming prejudice. This research highlights the importance of taking into account individual psychological factors as well as the sociological and structural variables.

Likewise, Patton & Simmons (2008) studied the creation of a "triple consciousness," in reference to W.E.B. DuBois's double consciousness of being African-American. Added to African-American identity is the added identity of lesbian, in the case of the Patton & Simmons (2008) research, which explored Black lesbian students' self-perception and identity construction. Negotiating the "complexities of multiple identities" demands psychological resilience, which is why some students may need extra support, whereas other students may find it relatively easy to cope with prejudice on campus (Patton & Simmons, 2008, p. 197).

Identity formation is a core component of psychological and social health. Further research into the ways LGBT African-Americans navigate the tricky waters of multiple identities shows that the presence of a supportive social system is a prerequisite for healthy and honest friendships on campus. In particular, the six African-American students attending historically black colleges and universities in the United States noted that while the overall environment on campus supportive, their ability to come out of the closet was restricted. They "experienced challenges with publically expressing their sexual identities," (Patton, 2011, p. 77).

Another variable associated with the psychological and social health of LGBT…

Sources Used in Documents:


Burleson, Douglas A. "Sexual orientation and college choice: Considering campus climate." About Campus 14, no. 6 (January 2010): 9-14. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 14, 2013).

Eisen, V., & Hall, L. (Eds.). (1996). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and education [Special issue]. Harvard Educational Review, 66(2).

Griffin, H. (2000). Their Own Received Them Not: African-American Lesbians and Gays in Black Churches. Theology & Sexuality: The Journal Of The Institute For The Study Of Christianity & Sexuality, 6(12), 1.

Heck, N.C., Flentje, A., & Cochran, B.N. (2011). Offsetting risks: High school gay-straight alliances and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. School Psychology Quarterly, 26(2), 161-174. doi:10.1037/a0023226

Cite This Research Paper:

"Welcoming Homosexual Lifestyles At Historically Black Colleges And Universities" (2013, November 30) Retrieved December 5, 2020, from

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