Was I discriminated against? Sending the wrong message…
In October of 2013 I filed a complaint against the Morgan State University Alpha Iota [chapter] of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., after being the victim of sexual discrimination while trying to become a member of the Alpha Iota chapter at my university. In one investigation conducted by the judicial affairs department, found that the chapter violated university policies. The chapter was placed on “disciplinary probation” until fall 2015 for having “violated certain university regulations, procedures and policies” released in a statement by university officials on December 3, 2013. In another investigation conducted by the Director of Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office to determine “whether or not I was discriminated against,” has yet to be released and the person who worked on my case is no longer at the university. It is has been eight months since the investigation started, and two persons have filled the role of the Director of Diversity and EEO at Morgan State University since the person working on my case left earlier this year. We do not have a campus environment that is free from discrimination, and students who attend the University are not shy from sharing this. Are we moving in the right direction? Perhaps, but likely because the University has been under the public spotlight due to my complaint.
I question my president’s sincerity when he said that the University did the right thing and “saw an educational moment” when it placed the Alpha Iota [chapter] of Kappa Alpha Psi on probation until 2015 and barred it from participating in University events or hosting its own, at the 2014 HBCU Student Success Summit sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU). I find that statement false considering that on May 2, 2014, the Alpha Iota chapter hosted an event in the University Ballroom called “Kolor Blind – Understanding One Another.” I find it hypocritical considering on February 8, 2014 the Alpha Iota chapter, in collaboration with another campus fraternity held their annual “Pretty Nasty” party; which aided in the moratorium for future events imposed by Vice President of Student Affairs, Kevin Banks as well as raising eyebrows in the Mayor’s Office. It is evident that the University has sent the wrong message. I don’t have an issue with whether or not the chapter is allowed or is not allowed to have events, but when the University is projecting one thing and the campus environment is projecting another there is a problem. When the University states that the chapter is on probation barred from participating in University events or hosting its own; yet the presence of the chapter on campus remains the same; members of the chapter allowed to wear their letters attending university sponsored events, the chapter hosting events [with or without stipulations], and collaborating with other organizations on campus sends the wrong message. The fact that university administrators and the campus climate are unclear of the Diversity and EEO officer’s findings regarding whether or not I was discriminated against, sends the wrong message. The fact that I have been on a wild goose hunt to obtain the findings from the Diversity and EEO Office, sends the wrong message. The fact that I am told from students and personnel at the university that it appeared as though I dropped my complaint on the university’s part, perhaps because I studied abroad this past semester, sends the wrong message. I do not believe Morgan State University did the right thing; you have sent the wrong message.
My Worst Achievement Became My Greatest Success
The time is now for me to say, thank you for that experience. Last month, at an awards dinner I saw my former colleague, peer, past Mr. Morgan State University—the member in the Alpha Iota [chapter] of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., who referred to me as an “intelligent ass faggot nigga” and advised other members of the fraternity to “give me the perception of a fair and equal opportunity” in a series of messages exchanged between him and other members of the fraternity regarding my application. I had seen him before but this time was different. I had forgiven him. I walked up to him, I greeted him, I shook his hand, and I wished him well.
Eight months ago, a reporter from Fox45 News, asked me a question, “Tell me what’s going on with Brian, with everything that’s happening how are you feeling?” Afraid, confused, and overwhelmed with everything going on at the moment, I refused to answer that question on camera. The truth is—I was more fearful that the reporter might have taken my words and tried to send a different message surrounding my story. I simply wanted to raise awareness about my experience trying to become a member of the Alpha Iota [chapter] of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., with the hopes that other people wouldn't experience the same form of discrimination I faced. I realize now, how significant this story had become and how important it is to answer that question.
I wasn't feeling. I didn't have the time or the space for emotions, so I suppressed them. For the most part I just tried to survive to get through the day. Each day was a struggle. I was stressed. I had daily talks with my crisis manager; often times multiple times a day, and even buried myself in his condo for refuge. I fell back into depression, starving myself again. I had lost a significant amount of weight, and my physical and mental health began to take a turn for the worse. At one point I was admitted to the emergency room. I was instructed to get rest and take it easy, but how could I? I had acquired a new schedule (advice from mentors) of when I should and shouldn’t walk about campus, primarily at night because of concerns for my safety. I developed a buddy system with friends walking to and from class. I began to change my normal patterns. I refrained from using social media and going as far as telling my best friends to stop sending me photos and snapshots of negative comments and memes. I went into isolation, which was hard considering the role as an ambassador to my university. I tried everything not to be seen; however, I still had to perform academically. As an honors student I felt the pressure that nothing should come between academics. Then things just got worse. I began getting correspondence sent to my university address from prisoners in correctional facilities; “who had read about me in the news paper,” and with their words violating me in ways unimaginable. I had figures—hidden by the shadows of a campus residence hall and the night sky yell threats to me intentionally calling me a “faggot” as I walked to my car one night. I didn’t feel safe anymore. The place I called home for the past four years, the institution that I loved and “bled orange and blue” for, wasn’t safe for me and wasn’t a place I could call home anymore.
I was broken. My spirit was broken. And I tried every day for the remaining months of the semester to not let it show. I found myself going into a dark place, one I had been to before but promised myself I would never go back to again. I never actually thought to attempt suicide again, but the idea of letting it all go did cross my mind. Life at this point was too much to bear. I failed three classes this semester, with my GPA falling below the honors requirement. My close friends in the chapter who had ushered me through my process turned their backs on me when their roles in my situation were exposed. I was confused as I struggled to understand the “process” or the “investigation” of my complaint. Did the Director and EEO officer findings yield that I was discriminated against or not? I was a wreck, physically and mentally. By this time I didn’t care about my academics, I cared about my health more, so I visited a psychologist who offered me one of the best counseling sessions I have ever had in my life. It got better. Kappa Alpha Psi is just a chapter in my life story. It will never be my life’s story. My worst achievement became my greatest success. I learned so much from this experience.
The Time Is Now
The time is now for individuals in the LGBT community to share their stories; stories that inspire and help others deal with the hardships of life. I write this piece because I want the hundreds of thousands of people from around the world who read about my story, who wrote to me, who shared words of support, who shared their personal stories of not being able to express who they are, to know that it gets better. I see you. I hear you. What you say matters. I validate you as I have learned through this experience to validate myself. Thank you for your support and never giving up on me. I am doing better!
The time is now for more individuals who feel like they can’t “come out” or that they can’t be true to who they are to know that many others including me share those same experiences. I know what it’s like to not be able to say “I’m gay” because of your environment or because you feel like you represent more than yourself. As Michael Thomas wrote in an article for Mused Magazine titled I Don’t Know if I’m ‘Out’, I’m A Grown Man perhaps you feel like this:
“For many of my college years, I longed to answer, “Yes” when someone mustered up the courage, but I felt I couldn't answer truthfully because I didn't belong to myself just yet. I belonged to my fraternity: the chapter president can’t be a gay man. I belonged to my church: the guy with the smile and hugs that the old ladies loved couldn't be gay. I belonged to my family: these old, traditional folks aren't ready for their pride and joy to say he won’t be giving them any grandbabies, nieces or nephews. I belonged to my reputation: the girls that I’d been with surely didn't want to know that the guy they turned to for sexual satisfaction was beginning to enjoy lying with a man more than cuddling with a woman.”
The time is now for you to be honest and true to yourself and know that you will be ok.
The time is now for more colleges and universities, especially Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) to create cultures that encourage and develop persons in the LGBT community throughout their matriculation. Perhaps more discussions and forums can be held around acceptance; as this remains one of the prominent realities facing LGBT persons, especially those in the African American community. More than 90 percent of black gay youths listed “family acceptance” as the main factor that could make their lives more bearable. The Black Youth Project also found that 43 percent of African-American gay youths have thought about or attempted suicide, and 26 percent reported being the target of anti-gay bullying. Additional research found that 85 percent of LGBT youths reported hearing homophobic remarks from their peers, and 56.9 percent said that their teachers or other school staff used similar anti-gay slurs. There is a serious problem when 33 percent of queer spectrum and 38 percent of trans spectrum respondents have seriously considered leaving their institution due to the challenging climate, where LGBT people of color are more likely to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid harassment, and where 21 percent of LGBT people have experienced harassment within the past year on their college campus (Rankin, Weber, Blumenfeld & Frazer, 2010). The time is now for educators, administrators, and higher education professionals, to create a safe and welcoming culture in the college and university setting outside of the “safe” space provided by the “rainbow soul” organization on campus.
The time is now, for more celebrity figures like Frank Ocean, Anderson Cooper, Robin Roberts, Don Lemon, Chaz Bono, Rickey Martin, Mat Bomer, Guillermo Diaz, Wentworth Miller, Zachary Quinto and recently Jason Collins and Michael Sam, to come out; however, it’s equally important that everyday persons like Derrick Gordon and Pete Cahall come out and share their stories as well. There are so many people around the world, young, old, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender— straight and questioning who look up to these people. The time is now for more people to help create the LGBT narrative; writing our own story and inspiring others along the way. There needs to be more role models for LGBT persons to look up to, and not just celebrity figures, but normal everyday people, like the school principal in our community, or the professor in our lecture hall. Your willingness to be true to yourself and intentionally out could inspire someone in your community. The time is now to do that, to be that person.
The time is now to do the right thing. I received so many text messages, emails, and calls of support from people all over the world when my discrimination claim made national headlines. A large majority of the support came from persons who had experienced very similar if not the same form of discrimination. I responded to almost everyone one of them asking “did you speak up? Did you say something?” and in every instance I was hit with the reply of “I’m not as brave as you.” I was confused, and furthered the conversations along asking the question “when did doing the right thing require courage or bravery?” I have found that there are so many people out there who have been wronged, discriminated against, and are waiting for courage and bravery to force them to speak up and do the right thing. I am here to tell you the time is now to do the right thing. Whatever your story might be, the time is now to do the right thing. It is not too late, it is never too late, but if you don’t speak up you won’t be heard. You won’t get the satisfaction or gratification, reaping the benefits of the change you wanted but neglected to speak out on. The time is now for you to be happy, authentic, and comfortable in your own skin. The time is now for you to share your story...