Growing up, I remember going to the step shows and seeing family and friends cross at probates. Most of the successful black men around me were in some black fraternity, and often would not let you forget it. The fancy cars with the classic crest bumper stickers. The various arrangements of black and gold or crimson and cream on office desks in my high schools made an impression. It was a symbol of family and an experience that was larger than life. My mentors were strong successful black men who embodied qualities that I aspired to one day have. I was told that through hard work and focus, I would be able to one day represent those Greek letters and be a part of the brotherhood.
This all seemed attainable, except I forgot to mention that I am gay.
It wasn't until my freshman year in college that I realized that one aspect of my life would overshadow an immense reputation of accomplishment. Early on, I would hear members of these fraternities give guys like myself a hard time. No explanation, just simply "that's the way it is." Whether it was homophobic slurs or overtly hetero-centric events and parties, the statement was clear: gay black men, whether successful, talented, or interested were not welcomed. Sure, one could pay for a ticket to an event... but one still was not encouraged to join. I learned the hard way when an Alpha at my college bluntly said in front of me "ain't no fa**ots crossing my line."
And that fall, I was not crossing that line.
Even worse, many of my fellow gay peers who have crossed either had to hide their sexual identities during the process or come out after graduation. It is painful and hard to watch grown men who are intelligent, hard working, and just as deserving as their straight peers are silenced in order to be a part of this "brotherhood."
For many years, I have not expressed the great anger I have had in seeing this until I realized that my story and those around me was not just happening at Penn.
Brian Stewart, a student at Morgan State University, also had dreams and aspirations of being a part of black Greek life. Growing up under harsh living conditions, his life story is one of inspiration. He found mentorship and support by older black Greek men and this in return encouraged him to want to be a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Of course, he didn't expect to apply without making an impression. He was a former White House intern for the Obama administration, and excelled in leadership at his college. It wasn't until he intercepted the homophobic and discriminatory messages that led to his rejection letter from the fraternity that he sought legal action. Morgan State University is now investigating the situation and more details on the case are still being revealed.
On their national website it states, "Kappa Alpha Psi is justly proud that the Constitution has never contained any clause which either excluded or suggested the exclusion of a man from membership merely because of his color, creed, or national origin." Notice how they left out sexual orientation. Because whether one argues that this is an accidental slip or not, it highlights an even larger problem within our community that shows the deep seated homophobia that still exists.
Furthermore, this level of exclusion and rejection is taking place at institutions of higher learning where black males are hardly present. It's enough to already face the prejudices and hardships of adjusting to the various socioeconomic and social conflicts already present in predominately white institutions. And yet, within our own sector, the demotion and bigotry persists that discourages our own peers to look up to our fellow black man.
What black fraternities have done by not actively including all men of color, despite sexual orientation, to consider joining is create yet another rift within the black community. The institution can no longer say they are trying to uplift the community when they have their foot so low to keep other successful black men from being apart based on sexual orientation.
The contradiction has even led to revisiting the age old question of whether or not black fraternities are even relevant anymore. I believe as long as there is an underrepresented amount of black men in college and in the workforce, it will always be necessary. However, if this is going to be the same institution that aspires to uplift one group up while discriminate another, then it's beyond irrelevant... it's counterproductive.
It's time that black fraternities recognize that black masculinity is no longer primitive and conventional. Instead of them putting those that are interested in a bind to enslave their identities in order to contribute to the organization, they should be finding better ways to adjust to the times.
I'm not sure if they are aware so I will make it clear: there are currently and will forever be gay black men in America and in your fraternities. They are your friends, your mentors, your bosses, your brothers, and most of all they are the same men that is helping to further the initiatives of your organization.
If these institutions do not support gay members in their organizations, then I dare you to be bold and post it in your constitution and see how many people will sponsor you in 2013. But since that has yet to happen, then I argue that you discontinue the subtle and intimidating homophobia that you know plagues the very communities you strive to protect.
If black fraternities truly desire to cultivate leadership and excellence for black men in the future, you can no longer go about it backwards. Because doing so will continue to have former interested men such as Stewart, myself, and many others lose the enchantment that great Greek brothers like Dr. King have instilled in our generation.
Enough is finally enough.