higher ed

Morehouse College Just Banned Cross-Dressing. And Campus Gays OK’d It?


Because universities are places to learn, and not — gasp! — draw attention to yourself, the all-male Morehouse College has placed women’s clothing on its list of banned attire, right up there with wearing sunglasses, pajamas, and do-rags in class. And yes, banning cross-dressing is specifically aimed at gay students.

Morehouse, the HBCU (historically black college/university) in Atlanta, is cracking down on those silly gays who think a college campus is the appropriate place to express themselves. “We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men,” says Dr. William Bynum, vice president for Student Services. And what happens if you do show up to class wearing a cute Marni number? You’ll be asked to leave. Keep doing it, and Morehouse will suspend you. The change comes “from the vision of the college’s president” Robert Michael Franklin, Bynum tells CNN, “who wants the institution to create leaders like notable graduates Martin Luther King Jr., actor Samuel Jackson and film director Spike Lee.”

Couple this knee-jerk response with Morehouse’s recent firing of an employee who made fun of that fabulous gay wedding, and we’re not sure what to think of the school’s feelings towards the gays. (Morehouse’s Bynum insists the policy change came after he met with Morehouse Safe Space, the campus’ gay organization, which voted to OK the policy change. “Of the 27 people in the room, only three were against it.”)

It’s all part of President Franklin’s “five wells” campaign. He wants students to be “well read, well spoken, well traveled, well dressed and well balanced.” That’s reasonable. And admirable! But if the trade off is a policy that’s so strict it clamps down on a student’s ability to express his gender identity, we can’t get behind it.

Is wearing pumps in class really going to distract from academia? Only if Morehouse contributes to a campus that ostracizes those individuals. Or they could teach tolerance and acceptance. You know, like that Martin Luther King Jr. fella.

UPDATE: Insider Higher Ed provides this opposition:

The only vocal opposition to the new rules has come from some gay students on campus. Kevin Webb, co-president of Safe Space @ Morehouse, a gay-straight student alliance, said that under Franklin’s leadership, the college has been more committed to equity for gay students than ever before, and that “as an openly gay student, I feel privileged to have matriculated now.”

Webb said that gay students are divided about the dress code. But although he will not have to change his style, he said he was bothered by the new rules.

For many gay students, fashion is an important part of self-definition, he said. “Once you try to stop people’s expression, everything that is unique about people is going to start to crumble, and you will produce robots, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?”

A few gay Morehouse students do dress in women’s clothing sometimes, and Webb said that should be allowed. While all Morehouse students are covered by the new clothing policy, Webb said he was bothered that a specific rule singled out a style popular only with some gay students. “I think this borders on discrimination,” he said. “While someone can say that it applies the heteronormativity of other students in terms of do-rags and sagging of pants, I can also say that there are gay people who sag their pants and wear their do-rags, but you don’t find people here who identify themselves as straight walking around in feminine garb.”

If male students wear feminine clothing, he asked, “what impact does it have on how intelligent they are, their grade point average and how much community service they do?”

He also questioned the idea that someone who wears more formal clothing is necessarily a better person. “We are focusing too much on the exterior,” he said. “If you put a clown in a suit, he’s still a clown.”

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  • Jaroslaw

    AOL has a little segment on this, so far (10:42 am) there are 26,000 votes total, 81% are in favor of the policy to not allow cross dressing and 19% “thumbs down”.

    I can never seem to post a comment there even though I’m an AOL member – I click “post” nothing happens, it tells me I must login first, but there is no login page…..and some people manage to get several posts in an hour or two!

    So I’ll post one here. While I have no desire to wear a dress, I’d like to know why it is so threatening! I can see why some might be a little uncomfortable, but hey, that is the price of freedom & democracy no?

  • Jaroslaw

    I meant to say I can see where some people might be a little uncomfortable around a guy in a dress, but I stress A LITTLE….

  • Lex

    It’s an all male school for a reason. I see nothing wrong with this rule.

    The man purpose of gender separation in some colleges is lower distractions so the students can focus on schoolwork. I can see how this would be a major distraction.

    Furthermore it will also keep those students safe. They have balls to dress in drag on an all male campus, I’ll give them that, but Morehouse isn’t the place to do it.

    Unlike white colleges and it’s students, black colleges and it’s students do not benefit from white privilege and therefore cannot make there focus “expressing yourself”. Instead they put their focus on education and career. Shame on them.

  • Cinci Chris

    This policy is an adaptation to heteronormative, white culture. Rather than embracing diverse culture- even black culture (ie: banning do-rags at a black college)– they are teaching their black, male students that they should try to be like the white man in power rather than being individuals and standing up for their own idea of self representation. I think it’s a very cowardly move on the part of the administration and extremely unconstitutional.

  • Qjersey

    Question: do these “cross dressing” students identify as gender queer, femme queen or trans? None of the news reports or comments has brought this up.

  • Meat_cat

    I agree with this ban of women’s clothing at an all-male school, all-male being the keyword, people with different gender identities need not apply. My problem is that the VP of student services went to the school’s gay organization and they ok’ed it. Well I can tell you that this is no surprise, because by and large Transsexuals/Cross-dressers and gays are 2 groups that have little “crossover,” they would be much more comparable to oil and water, rather than water and alcohol, 2 substances which will “mix.” But being the ignorant crap that he is, of course he naturally assumed that these “transgendered” students were automatically gay. There is so much more out there than that. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a self-professed gay man in women’s clothing. Probably never, because pretty much every gay person I have asked about it has said they would never be caught dead in women’s clothing, they wouldn’t even put it on as a joke. Ignorance is strength.

  • Meat_cat

    Qjersey, that does not surprise me in the least, most people assume that transgendered individuals(and the rather large swath of people that umbrella covers) are all gay. You can’t blame the population at large for this, people just don’t care about things that don’t involve them, and they never have. However I do think that “Dr. William Bynum”, who is vice president for Student Services, should be taken to task for this, it is, after all, his job to know these sorts of things. This quote only reinforces previous observations I have made, which led me to the conclusion that there is little crossover between “transgendereds” and “gays”: ‘Morehouse’s Bynum insists the policy change came after he met with Morehouse Safe Space, the campus’ gay organization, which voted to OK the policy change. “Of the 27 people in the room, only three were against it.”‘

  • AC

    Gender identity and gender expression are two different things. A person can be male and have a gender expression that is more feminine. It would be tantamount to a men’s college deciding that men who maintain their fingernails and don’t like to get dirty will be banned for “not expressing appropriate masculinity”. This may be an extreme example but it hopefully highlights the reality of this school administration deciding what is and is not an “appropriate” gender expression. It’s arbitrary and based in transphobia. Period.

    @ Lex
    I think you are over simplifying the racial dynamics. I don’t think having the space to expression one’s gender is based in white privilege. If anything, racially oppressed people have an advantage when it comes to expressing gender differences because already have resilience necessary to survive a white supremacist country from an early age. This resilience, I can say from experience, serves a person well when traveling through this life as a person with a different sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
    Also it is important to note that most transgender and gender nonconforming people in this country who are murdered and assaulted are people of color and under most circumstances are killed or attacked by people of their own race. Thus i don’t think it’s fair to point to white privilege as the reason black students shouldn’t/can’t crossdress. It’s probably closer to the truth that they shouldn’t crossdress because their homophobic and transphobic brethren with beat the shit out of them.
    Instead of resigning itself to the cycle of homophobic and transphobic attitudes Morehouse and other colleges should foster a “live and let live” approach to gender difference on campus. At the very least.

  • Fitz

    HBCU’s have a REALLY hard job, and I understand their desire to both keep the focus on schoolwork and to groom the young men to look as corporate and professional as they can. If they had women there, I would be 180 degrees opposite of this.

  • Meat_cat

    Mister Anonymous Coward, I would disagree. When one is wearing women’s clothing, can that really be called “masculine gender expression?” I don’t think anyone in their right mind would call it that. Sure there is variation in gender expression, some guys like wearing pants that people in Europe would say are too tight, or maybe they like eyeliner or what have you. When a person is cross dressing, it is cross dressing, not “alternative masculine gender expression.” The word you are looking for is gender-queer or dual-role tranvestiticism. The behavior you describe would fall under the label of gender queer specifically, if I am not mistaken. People get their gender cues based on the behavior of society at large, and when you are feeling pretty in pink, you are not getting your cues from the masculine portion of society. Your example fails in a number of ways, not least of which is the fact that keeping your nails clean isn’t part of “gender expression,” it has more to do with “not being a damn slob expression.”

    Upon this racial issue, I don’t think gender expression is part of white privilege. But neither do black people really gain from the discrimination their parents suffered. I say parents because how many black people alive today that are transgendered actually have experienced the pervasive racism that their parents and grandparents grew up with? Other than not being able to get a cab sometimes, I would venture to say not many.

    Furthermore, to cover an issue that is tangentially related, I would just like to say that just because black people suffered some discrimination in the past(and still do!), doesn’t mean that they will particularly care about the plight of GBLT folks. In fact, while this may seem counterintuitive, they will be more discriminatory. It has been shown that groups who are discriminated against do the same thing to other groups. I think the people in California know this the best, ever since Nov. 4th of last year, when gay marriage rights were repealed by a margin of 2-3 points. The black community actually voted 70% to repeal those rights. People who seek to gain equal and civil rights can expect no help from the black and/or hispanic, or any other community whatsoever.

  • ChicagoJimmy

    I am a gay man. For many people, that equals “different” which makes me scary, dangerous, disgusting, distracting, off-putting, etc. I think that is bullshit and I welcome my gay brothers and sisters when they stand with me against homophobia and discrimination.

    I, and many others who often post here, have wondered and raged why people of color don’t understand that our fight for equal treatment under the law is their fight too and that our two communities (who are not mutually exclusive) should find ways to come together to affect change.

    Then I come across a story like this and I hang my head in shame for my gay brothers and sisters who are so quick to turn their backs on the trans community.

    I don’t care about their sexual orientation, I don’t care if they struggle with gender identity or simply want to dress with their own sense of gender expression in mind. All I know is that some power has pointed a finger and said, “You are DIFFERENT, and that isn’t wanted.”

    I say FUCK that! Difference is interesting and exciting. Difference brings us great art, poetry, literature, fashion, invention, exploration, and science.

    If you’re gay, then you know what it’s like to be labeled “different” and when you see someone else being oppressed for being a little different themselves, then you better stand up and start screaming bloody murder. Otherwise, your just a selfish shit and might as well go find a straight girl to fuck.

  • Cinci Chris

    @ChicagoJimmy I’m right there with you. People’s comments thus far concerning this topic are disgusting. You want people to support and defend you as a gay man or a lesbian, yet you can’t even empathize with trans rights and alternative gender expression? Quit being so God damned selfish people, it’s LGBT, NOT LGB.

  • Julie

    I understood that this is not a trans issue, but femme gay guys wearing makeup, something like a women’s v-neck american apparel shirt, and skinny jeans from the women’s dept. Lots of guys do it. Hell, Dwight on Real Housewives wears makeup and I don’t think he’d identify as trans. Just think about it…transwomen like me would never consider attending an all-male college.

    I still don’t agree with the ban. Unless they’re going to specify a uniform, I don’t think some fabric designs should be banned while others allowed. Its impossible to enforce and just doesn’t make any sense. A college can have a respected study body while still retaining self-expression.

  • Fitz

    To the “whoa the gay world is against us Transfolk” crowd: this is an all-male school. Did you read the piece at all, or just come out swinging?

  • Meat_cat

    @Cinci chris, I think the high proportion of students in the gay organization who “ok’ed the VP’s idea” shows how far people are willing to go to care for someone who is different than themselves. 90% don’t care(27 saying they were ok with it, 3 against.) People are inherently selfish about qualities other people possess that they do not possess. For example, we all eat, so when a group of people get together for a meal, they are not selfish about food(well most aren’t), because they can understand the needs of others to eat food as well as they do, because we all experience hunger. But the second that something is no longer an experience shared by the group, that goes out the window. L’s dont care about G’s, G’s don’t care about B’s and B’s dont care about T’s (This is an oversimplification and literary device to make a point :P ). It is sad, but it is the reality of existence that if an experience isn’t shared within a group, the group wont care about it. I don’t think they ever will to tell you the truth, and that makes me a little bit sad as a human being. People have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing sometimes.

  • AC

    I have little interest in engaging in a flame war with you. But I have a few clarifications to make. First, your (incorrect) assumption that I am a “Mister” is fascinating. Secondly, your comment actually supported my argument that according to you having maintained nails falls under the category of “”not being a damn slob expression” and for others it is “feminine”. These are arbitrary categorizations that don’t actually include how people perceive themselves. Third, you continue to fail in understanding the difference between “gender identity” and “gender expression”.
    Finally, thanks for calling me a coward (a personal attack which seemed a little uncalled for); I find your resentment delicious.

  • Anthony

    Morehouse is an all mens college. They are required to dress in proper attire. If a transexual at Morehouse wanted to go to class in a dress then she should consider transferring to Spelman College.

  • Jaroslaw

    Chicago Jimmy – thank you for writing a great “editorial”. Excellent. Anyone should be able to comprehend it and agree with at least some of it.

  • Jaroslaw

    Anthony – there is a little more to this. The college is even trying to tell them how to dress on their own time!

  • Republican

    Morehouse is certainly not the only private college that requires its students to live by its code at all times. The practice isn’t that unusual.

  • Meat_cat_The_Scientist

    You know, after reading Julie’s post and giving it some thought, I have changed my mind. She has a point, and furthermore I do think this “policy” is discriminatory and will help to contribute to a pervasive enviroment of discrimination against persons who wear some clothing which is considered inappropriate of their gender. I think it is in a schools right to prohibit dress with promotes ill manners or “thugishness” or glamourizes such things. But, to be quite frank, I am quite sure that those are not the motives behind banning feminine garb. What I am sure of is that those other items like ill fitting pants and do-rags were added as a cover, so that they are not accused of being discriminatory outright, but they are. I posit that it is solely out of disgust that this policy was enacted, and Morehouse college should receive a healthy amount of scorn and hell for it.

  • Meat_cat_The_Scientist

    AC, I would just like to clarify a few things. First of all, thank you for trying to discredit me by accusing me of trying to start a flame war, but this is the first logical fallacy that anyone interested in such things learns. Argue by the merits of your point, not with ad hominem attacks accusing me of starting a flame war, please. Secondly I called you Mister, because I have a tendency to think that any unidentified persons on the Internet tend to be male. I called you Anonymous Coward because, as you seem unaware of, AC is synonymous with Anonymous Coward. Maybe AC are your initials, or some kind of pseudonym, and if that is so, I apologize. Thirdly, reading through your posts, I cannot see what point you are trying to articulate(rather poorly I might add) You make a series of disconnected statements with no evidence or even personal observations to back up those statements. Since making my original posts, I have since come to change my mind and think that the policy in question is not OK. If a male person chooses to express themselves in that way, I think it should be allowed. I believe the policy will only contribute to an environment of discrimination, which is already quite pervasive, against such individuals. On this merit alone I find the policy to be offensive, and whoever set it in motion should be immediately terminated. If someone wants to be Chris Crocker, I say let ’em.

  • Jaroslaw

    Oh Republican #20 if only folk would live by the codes they promise! IN ALL AREAS not just a dress code.

    Most codes talk about morality (which means no cheating on your partner) and upholding “values.” Don’t these things include caring for the poor? Paying one’s fair share of taxes?

  • jimmy

    If you decide to attend a private college, you agree to their rules. I wonder how many of these individuals are on scholarship provided by Morehouse. Scholarship or not, asking for trouble is usually rewarded with said trouble.

  • mojojojo

    Another example of the rampant homophobia in the black community!

  • Walden

    I’m Half black and white…The whole idea of well behaved dressed black men reminds me of Booker T or was it W.E.B..efforts to sanitize and make black people nice a proper for the larger white society…Why do we still have this appearance based mind set? Its only keeping US back….Black communities need to grow up on this issue, sigh.

  • Lex

    For anyone who think this is discriminatory and disagrees wholeheartedly with what I said please watch this video:


    Now this was from the point of view of some random ass redneck without a clue.

    What do you think parents and CEOs will say about Morehouse’s image if they didn’t nip this in the bud?

    Average people are already going on and on about black men in drag on television. Hell my own parents are doing it.

    Lets get real and wake the fuck up. Black colleges do not have the luxury to allow the students to run around freely doing whatever. You say don’t make it a race issue, but that’s too bad because it is. Historically black colleges are under a microscope based on race and always have been. They have to be the best of the best just to remain above average.

    If you go to Morehouse expect to be groomed or look elsewhere. That’s the end of the story.

    They’re not the first college to have policies regarding this topic and others.

    They’re also not discriminating against gay men or transgenders(if you’re m to f you don’t belong at Morehouse obviously since it’s all male).

  • Steve

    The essential element of a college is freedom to inquire. If certain questions cannot be asked, answers cannot be found and learning grinds to a halt. This principle historically has been embodied in policies and principles that are collectively called “academic freedom”.

    For the same reasons, the faculty at every university carefully avoids interference with student life outside of class. Students learn from their social experimentation just as much as they learn from the guided experiments that we call courses. People learn from experiments, not from repeating the same old conventional behaviors.

    A psychology or sociology professor could easily sponsor an undergraduate research project. The student(s) could dress in unconventional manner, and then inventory and describe the responses of others. Such an experiment would clearly be covered by “academic freedom”.

    That some students decided to conduct this learning experiment without a specific assignment or faculty sponsorship, should be immaterial. They can and will learn from the experience. They should note that the responses of others can sometimes be hostile.

    Call it research, write a paper, and submit it to a journal.

  • Duval

    @ #4 – I find it sad that black culture has come to embrace do-rags and sagging pants as an expression of their culture and heritage, as the two styles evolved out of the prison uniform. Wearing a tie or suit is not submitting yourself to white privilege. Look at any picture more than 30 years old – black men wore suits, and were proud to. Now black men are more proud to wear clothes that represent prison culture rather than dress in a way that is respectful of their environment.

    If you want to wear “black” clothes, then go put on an Agbata. But wait – look at modern African leaders. Are they wearing traditional clothes? No, they’re wearing suits. Because they’re embracing MODERN culture. Not white culture.

    As a white student looks like trash when he wears a wife beater and sagging jeans, so does a black student. Nothing racial about it.

    How can we win when we deny ourselves opportunities because we’re too prideful and stubborn to take them?

  • Charles Merrill

    If they allow headgear considered as a part of religious or cultural dress, a Rasta turban for instance, then they should allow do wraps.

  • Fitz

    @28: you seem to be thinking that college = Humanities/ Liberal Arts University. Not all schools want free thinkers. Not all students go looking for a place to explore ideas. Many schools deliver information, and teach people to tow the line.

  • Jaroslaw

    #24 Jimmy – I replied to you yesterday, but it didn’t take – I’m really tired of that old saw “if you go there, you agree to their rules.”

    Technically correct, but most of us assume the rules are there for logical reasons. The “rules” should not be there just because someone in power CAN make them.

    As has already been mentioned, women are no longer considered inferior, slavery is illegal etc. I agree with the other poster who said this is plain old homophobia with do-rags thrown in for cover.

  • redherring

    if they have a pathetic gay student group on campus that ok’d it, then who cares? sounds very fair.

  • Jaroslaw

    #33 I’ve been scouring the news to find out why only 3 people out of 27 in the “Gay” group objected – can’t find anything so looks like we’ll never know the whole story.

    It would follow historical precedents that if it was presented in a “Trans” vs.”Gay” way that the group would throw the Trannies “under the bus.”

  • Schteve

    Another private school implementing a dress code? Please. That’s no more discriminatory than the fact that they don’t admit women.

  • terrance johnson

    i would like to address all those opposing of our, morehouse college, new policy because it is “discriminatory against gays and transgendered students” but the reality is these students who identify with these positions, addressing the students that solely identify as homosexual or “feminine” as stated above, these students are all male and identify as such, there is no discrimination against these students because they are gay so lets stop saying that because it does become a greater issue from that false perspective; your clothing does not determine nor define your orientation, if you are gay are you gay because you put on womens clothing? thats a false identity if that is the case, there is no perscriptive diagnosis provided to the college stating these students will not be able to produce or become a great leader, as morehouse is known to produce, on the basis they are uncomfortable in clothing for males.also knowing the history of the college and its mission is important, a lot of these brothers come to morehouse for ATLANTA and not the rich tradition and nurturing provided at morehouse so it becomes blurry when they become engulfed in the sub-cultures of the city and transcend them into the culture of the campus. transgender students alike are responsible for knowing the institution they have chosen, there is no animosity towards any or none of my brothers alike; i have love for everyone, and in that i feel it is more important to figure out honestly if morehouse is the best choice, being an all male historic institution, rich and set in its own culture and development and leadership building skills for men, if identifying as transgender prohibits any of those, especially when it deals with changing the school for case by case accommodations; we have to really think rationally before we go head into situations, i know morehouse, i am morehouse, sexual orientation is not a determinant of that, what i produce is the etermining factor of that.

  • damdallas

    How safe can someone be in a place where they cannot be themselves?

  • TracieT

    As usual, we as African-Americans, have learned to apply the Judeo-Christian ethic to ourselves with greater adhesion than the very people who indoctrinated us with this foolishness in the first place.
    Clearly, within all groups, there will exist subsets of varying gender expression. Of course, some sets will overlap and some will not. Perhaps during class, a transgender student could perhaps be persuaded to wear more androgenous clothing, but to limit that person to wear male clothing exclusively I feel is a violation of that person’s right to freedom of expression.
    If heterosexual males are going to be distracted by the more gorgeous T-girls, then perhaps they should question their self-percieved sexuality now, rather than find out their best-kept secret was a major stressor throughout their lives, later.
    Preventing the transgenders from expressing themselves is like limitting a piano to just one note!

  • TekKnowledge

    What is wrong with u people?? This isn’t a gay issue, or a religious issue, or a racial issue.
    This is a mixed race kid checking black to get scholarship money and denouncing/denying his black culture in every other facet of life.

    if you’re a gay MAN, be a gay MAN. there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. or transgenderism. But don’t con your school that you’re something your not. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

  • zippe


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