April 14, 2012

What Duke owes to its Queer students.

In a conversation I recently had with a top-level administrator about the relocation of the LGBT center I felt as if the historical struggle of Queer students on campus was being ignored. The conversation went a little something like this…

Me: “We feel as if the administration gives our issues less attention then they deserve, and less attention as compared to other minority groups on campus, most notably the Black Student Alliance.”

The response was something like this “ Well I can see why you may feel that way, but Duke has such a long history of racism that we have a long way to go with reconciliation with black students”

Me: Duke also has a long history of Homophobia, that the University needs to own up to”

The reply: “yes, but Duke never officially said you can’t come here if you are gay, but it did say you can’t come here if you are black”.

Now this explanation of LGBT second-class treatment, as you can imagine angered me a great deal. To be honest, it is an administrative copout! As you may have noticed I am BLACK and I am GAY, so this whole discussion does put me in a bit of an uncomfortable situation. That being said I think my double minority status also qualifies me to point out this discrepancy without fear of being call homophobic or racist. Duke University owes a great deal to its LGBT population for past and present sins committed, and NOW is the time to pay up!

After that conversation I decided to do some digging on the LGBT history of Duke, and the struggle our predecessors had to endure. This is some of what I found…

The fist queer student group was formed in 1972 and it was called Duke Gay Alliance. Students during this time reported harassment, ostracism, and a general sense of fear. One student from the 70s recounts that many gay students of the time were advised by the University to seek psychiatric help to correct their homosexuality.

In 1974 President Stanford denied the request to include sexual orientation into the Universities non-discrimination policy. This by default meant that the University condoned institutionalized discrimination against LGBT individuals.

In 1983 the student government dechartered the queer student organization, then known as Duke Gay and Lesbian alliance. The DSG dechartered the group because a University lawyer feared the group would “promote homosexuality”, which at the time was a crime.

In the 1990’s the University would form a LGBT task force and in 94 create the LGB center (note the lack of T) but things did not get much better for students on campus. In 1999 Duke was ranked as one of the most homophobic campuses in America by the Princeton review.

Even today the University still refuses to live up to its responsibility on LGBT issues. Even now in 2012 the university refuses to come out against amendment 1 as an institution.

Still today the university will not own up to its responsibility and provide us a LGBT center with sufficient staffing, space, and resources.

The university talks a big game, but now it is time for results. Duke University owes a lot to its LGBT population, and we deserve the same treatment and respect as everyone else. I resent the assertion, that another group should receive priority treatment because of the way some administrators measure discrimination.

This is why Queer alums don’t donate money to the University.

This is why many progressive p-proshes are skeptical out attending.

This is why so many of our peers are closeted, and fearful.

Duke University must embrace its responsibility to LGBT individuals, and if they can’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts, it is time we apply the pressure because…

We will not be second-class students on our own campus

We will not be relegated to the fringes of campus life.

We will not live in fear on our own campus and,

We will not be silenced or ignored.

Duke is my home, and all I am asking I to be treated fairly within my own home.


  1. EXACTLY! I hope every top administrator at Duke reads this post. They need to know exactly how many in the LGBT community feel about this issue.

    I would argue that now is the time for US to step up. We made a decision as a group that we would follow the administration's rules; the administration's time tables, and this is what we got out of it. In my opinion, they will only provide us with what we allow them to provide--no more, no less. We of course won't be silenced or ignored, but we must now allow ourselves to be downplayed and glossed over either. Now is the time to stand up for what we know is right.

  2. A duke administrator said that? Is this a joke? That is seriously unacceptable.

  3. seriously unacceptable but totally believable. let's face it, they are so much more worried coming off as racist than homophobic. this is getting really old. i just don't know what to do about it tho.

  4. Denzell you are great.

  5. I'm so proud of you for having that conversation and for making NOISE. Keep it up. Definitely re-posting this.

  6. Thanks for taking the time and effort to discuss these issues with the administrator in the ways that you did.

    I simply want to correct one of the administrator's claims: at least one part of Duke-- the Divinity School-- was actively invested in telling gay students they couldn't attend the early 1990s. I came out while in the Div School (Class of '92) and had a professor tell me to get out of the school. Another accused me of heresy. A friend who served as a student representative on the admissions committee told me that she had been instructed to flag students who self-identified as LGB (as you correctly noted, "T" and "Q" weren't in the alphabet soup at that time) in their application materials.

    I and two other queer students questioned the Director of Admissions who told us that the div school reserved the right to deny admission to students based on sexual orientation (this was in the summer of 1991). We went to University Administration to complain and later met with the Dean of the Div School on this matter. The div school was required to publish the university's full non-discrimination policy in all of its materials (up until that time it simply left sexual orientation out and gender diversity was not yet a part of the policy). I found the div school to be an awful and homophobic space.