Bowie State University will make LGBT history come April 2.
On that Monday, the university will become the first Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to open a resource center for ''lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex'' (LGBTQI) students and their straight allies. The center is intended to provide information, resources and counseling to LGBTQI students, as well as a ''safe space'' for them on campus.
The center's opening ceremony will be held April 2, from 4 to 6 p.m., in suite 301 of the Martin Luther King Jr. Building, where the center's permanent home will be.
Adrian Krishnasamy, director of the new resource center and assistant professor in the school's Department of Communications, says that Bowie State has been trying to establish a resource center since 2007, but was unable to move forward until 2011 because the university lacked sufficient funding to support it.
The center, open daily from noon to 5 p.m., will provide students with access to a meeting space, computers and a library of educational materials, as well as to a trained counselor who can help students with personal problems. Krishnasamy also expects the school's gay-straight alliance to plan and design workshops or programs to raise awareness of issues related to sexual orientation among the larger student body of about 5,600 people.
Lauren Waters, youth and campus outreach coordinator for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization, works with several HBCUs in her job. She says Bowie State's status as the first HBCU to get an LGBT resource center will not only lead to more inclusion on Bowie State's campus, but will likely lead other HBCUs that have been discussing the possibility of opening similar centers of their own to move forward with their plans.
''Historically, HBCUs aren't necessarily hostile to LGBT people, but they're not necessarily all-inclusive of LGBT people,'' says Waters. ''I definitely think this is kind of 'starting the fire.'''
Waters says that while other HBCUs often have official gay-straight alliances, particularly those in the D.C. area, a designated ''safe space'' where LGBT students can congregate is rare.
''It's kind of like it's time now,'' Waters says of the need for other LGBT resource centers. ''We're in a new era, where LGBT equality is not just something we talk about behind closed doors.''
Waters says Bowie State's LGBT-and-allies student group, which has been involved in the project, received the backing of key administration officials on campus, allowing the process to move forward.
Jamale Stevenson, president of the BSU Gay-Straight Alliance, hopes the center will increase visibility of the student body's LGBT population and lessen feelings of alienation that some LGBT people have, particularly in relation to the larger culture of the black community.
Melanie Carr, a student who recently joined the BSU Gay-Straight Alliance, says the center is important because it will provide students with access to information about the LGBT community, particularly LGBT students who can become familiar with LGBT history.
''It's important that this resource center is highly visible,'' she says. ''It shows that we as a community are willing to be engaged. We're going to take full advantage of it.''
Jasmine Harvey, the Gay-Straight Alliance secretary, shares similar hopes.
''I'm a little nervous about opening, of some opposition we might get, but I think it's going to be successful,'' she says. ''I'm excited to see what people say in support of it.''
Harvey says that when she first arrived at Bowie State, she sensed some hostility toward LGBT students. The presence of a ''safe space'' where LGBT people can be comfortable and open about their sexual orientation, she says, may go a long way to instead make the campus more diverse and welcoming.
''I feel like there are a lot of LGBT community members at HBCUs that feel they have to keep quiet about their sexuality,'' she says. ''But once they see that one campus does it, and they see it's not the end of the world, that attitude will hopefully be adopted by other colleges and universities.''
[Editor's note: When first posted, Jamale Stevenson's first name was incorrectly written as "Janele." Metro Weekly regrets the error.]