Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students face unique challenges on college and university campuses today, including race, identity, religion and social acceptance. To promote more understanding about these issues, particularly at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 30 LGBT student leaders from 14 states and 22 institutions traveled to Washington, D.C., last weekend to participate in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation’s HBCU Leadership and Career Summit.
The annual summit, now in its 10th year, was created to educate and organize students, faculty and administrators at HBCU campuses on LGBT issues specific to each institution’s needs. It also ignites campus-wide dialogue on LGBT issues and is part of a yearlong effort to train LGBT students to become effective leaders and to spark advocacy on campus.
“HRCF’s HBCU Summit is an effort to help LGBT youth of color overcome the unique obstacles they face on their campuses in the fight for equality,” said Sultan Shakir, director of the HRC Youth and Campus Engagement Program, prior to the summit.
Summit participants took part in four days of various workshops on identity development and leadership training. Students also took part in a panel discussion on ‘Generation Equality: Entering the Workforce’ and a community reception to cap off the annual summit sponsored this year by Booz Allen Hamilton and PepsiCo. Moderated by Aisha Moodie-Mills, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, panelists included representatives from HRC, PepsiCo, Teachers College at Columbia University, technology and science-based W.L. Gore and Associates, and Black Enterprise magazine.
One of the panelists, Noël Gordon, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and HRC’s Foundation Coordinator, explained the significance of the program as a young person of color who identifies as being LGBT.
“The HBCU Leadership and Career Summit is a wonderful opportunity for HRC to cultivate the next generation of LGBT leaders while ensuring that group reflects the breadth and depth of the entire LGBT community,” he said. “The panel was a huge success in my book as it opened up a much-needed dialogue about the challenges LGBT people of color face when navigating various systems of marginalization.”
“Times are a-changing,” Gordon added, “and Black LGBT people, particularly young folks, are leading the way.”
Many of the supporters and volunteers at the summit were previous participants of the program. One volunteer, a 2005 and 2006 alum, Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Office of the Clean City Initiative Deputy Director Keith D. Jones Jr., served as one of this year’s mentors.
“I felt the need to give back to our community, as so much was given to me when I attended the summit years ago,” said Jones. “I wanted to share my knowledge and experience of helping to build a safe space to other students who are in the process of doing so at their colleges and universities.”
Jones added, “I learned from the Summit that, while so much has been accomplished on many HBCU campuses, so much work remains.”
One of the organizers of the summit, HRC Youth and Campus Assistant Samantha Master, explained how program alumni move on toward becoming prominent leaders in their communities and professions.
“Since the HBCU program’s inception, the Human Rights Campaign has touched the lives of hundreds of LGBT HBCU students,” Master said.” Throughout this time, our intention has remained clear—to create empowered change-agents on HBCU campuses. Students impacted have gone on to become ministers, policy managers, corporate professionals, educators and activists.”
Upon completion of the program, LGBT students return to their respective campuses with newfound self-confidence and the leadership skills necessary to take on the systematic barriers they faced before the summit.
“They have returned to their campuses feeling affirmed in their full selves and ready to engage their campus community in new and exciting ways,” said Master. “As our HBCUs educate the next generation of leaders that will go into an increasingly global and diverse workforce, they cannot—we cannot—allow students to be confined to the closets of secrecy and shame. We must embrace, affirm and celebrate the diversity that is our HBCU family.”
For more information about the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s HBCU Leadership and Career Summit, visit www.hrc.org.