Homophobia at Morehouse

Aaron Price trialI have been asked several times over the past month what my opinion is of the verdict that sentenced Aaron Price, a former Morehouse student, to ten years in prison for beating a gay dormmate with a baseball bat for looking at him in the showers. I imagine part of it has to do with the fact that I am a young black gay male, part of it has to do with me being a college student, and part of it is because I went to Morehouse and left because of the homophobia.

Unlike many students I met at Morehouse, I wanted to be at that school. I did not go because my father went there. I did not go because I did not get into Harvard and Morehouse was the "black Harvard." I did not go because they gave me a full scholarship.

I went because many of the men that I admired in my community had graduated from Morehouse. I went because I wanted to be a part of a tradition of great African American men. I went because I was looking for something -- a sense of brotherhood, a sense of community, a sense of something larger and greater than myself.

My first mentor went to Morehouse College. When I met him I was a junior in high school and he was a junior in college. He was everything that I thought I wanted to be. He stood up for himself. He was brilliant. He was ambitious. He did not take shit for being gay. I thought Morehouse had done that for him. Later I learned that was who he was already. He took me under his wing. I think he was flattered by my teenage hero worship. He was a little skeptical of me. He thought I was too young to be thinking about being gay. But he took me on anyway. I wanted to be like him, I wanted to go to Morehouse.

By the time I started Morehouse my dreams were as fragile as glass, and I wore my anxieties on my shoulders like any insecure freshman. Although I had made strides in coming to terms with my sexuality, it was not long before I ran back into the closet at Morehouse. It was not just frowned upon to be gay, but to be different altogether.
Morehouse CollegeI am not sure when I first began to crack. Perhaps it was hearing my psychology teacher say that homosexuality was caused by a lack of testosterone in men. Or maybe it was at a panel discussion where another faculty member voiced his frustration at the number of effeminate men he saw running around campus. Maybe it was sitting in a room with other gay students (and mind you we were all gay) and speaking in code language -- switching "he" to "she" -- when talking about lovers and sexual encounters and speaking cryptically about gay club culture and so forth. I am not certain when I broke exactly, but it was in my third semester that I had to choose. It was either survive and leave, or stay and die.

I don't have any personal horror stories about being on campus. I was not beat up or ridiculed. I did not walk into the cafeteria to laughs and heckles, no one got in my face. Although for a long time I resisted thinking so, I was closeted on campus. I passed, or at least attempted to. I was not brave, I was not heroic. I never challenged homophobia and did my best to remain anonymous there. It was not until after I left that I found my strength and my voice. It is the shame that I have over my powerlessness there that motivates me now.

I ran back into the closet at Morehouse. It was not just frowned upon to be gay, but to be different altogether.

So what do I think of the Aaron Price verdict? The dirty laundry of Morehouse College was aired before the world, they now have to renegotiate their image. The antiquated Morehouse values that they have stuffed down the throats of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman may have to be reconsidered. The school will have to change. This is perhaps the first step.

I once told a friend of mine, who at the time was a student at Morehouse, that it takes a lot of courage to leave that place. He, on the other hand, believed that it took more courage to stay. It was only later, after he left, that he understood my words and came to agree.

Charles Stephens is a 22-year-old senior at Georgia State University.

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