UDC Celebrates LGBTQ+ History Month

UDC Celebrates LGBTQ+ History Month

UDC Celebrates LGBTQ+ History Month

Trinice McNally

Trinice McNally

Trinice McNally, founding director of the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Affairs (CDIMA), leads the fight for equity and inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community.

As a student at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., McNally was a student organizer who started an LGBTQ+ student group at the HBCU after discovering that LGBTQ+ students faced discrimination on campus.

McNally majored in psychology in her undergraduate studies and transformative leadership in graduate school. Then, she began working globally on social justice and gender equity issues.

Before working at UDC, McNally ran a national HBCU program with the National Black Justice Coalition, where she taught HBCU administrators how to build “more culturally competent campuses.”

At the time, there were fewer than three HBCUs with LGBTQ+ resource centers, one of which she built at Bethune-Cookman. Afterward, she ran the LGBTQ+ Resource Center at North Carolina Central University and “helped build some of the work that happened at FAMU, at Prairie View A&M, all across the East Coast and in the South.”

Born in England to parents of Jamaican descent and raised in Miami, Florida, she grew up understanding the “very clear tension and history of racism and sexism” in the South, even though she didn’t have the language to explain it.

“But when I got to different political and educational spaces, I was like, ‘How come I didn’t learn about Black feminism in undergrad and graduate school? How come I didn’t learn about Black liberation movements and theologies? Why are my counterparts and my peers learning this at white institutions, but I’m not learning it at a Black institution?’” McNally said.

“It really propelled me to create the center and the work that we do. In essence, my entire life experience as a student organizer, as a person who grew up undocumented, as a person that really clearly saw and experienced discrimination and bias and the way it manifested in Black communities, and that is the trajectory of my work up until now,” she said.

After being hired to create a multicultural center at UDC, McNally started CDIMA in 2018 and took it further, to ensure that social justice and equity would be the outcome and aspiration.

“When I think about the campus and the uniqueness of our population, the first thing that comes to mind is that we’re serving historically marginalized folks. So that means that diversity, equity, inclusion and multicultural affairs work must look different because we’re talking about our people,” she shared.

“We’re talking largely about Black and Brown people, so the center was started with that in mind. What does it mean to center folks from historically marginalized backgrounds, folks who have been not only oppressed by society and by systems but also by each other because of bias, lack of understanding, internalized oppression, cultural competency, et cetera, you name it even within our own community as Black and Brown folks?” McNally said.

The result was a “social justice hub” on campus where people can learn and “engage in ways that help them to sharpen and process their ideas outside of the classroom.”

“Most times on college campuses, especially at HBCUs, folks aren’t able to access any radical political education. If your curriculum doesn’t have a women or gender studies program or an African American studies program or an ethnic studies program, folks often aren’t critically thinking about systems, about politics, about race, about gender and about class,” she said.

“So what the center does is it creates a space where folks can mobilize and build power on their campus and also in their community. We discuss what it means to achieve, aspire and take over the world. That’s a UDC mantra. That’s difficult if folks are not skilled and students are not educated and politically aware about systems of violence, how we participate in those systems and what makes us unique as Black and Brown folks who have a particular plight in Washington, DC, but in society generally,” McNally said.

Not only does CDIMA primarily serve as a social justice hub for LGBTQ+ and non-binary students, but it also serves first-generation students – those who are the first in their families to go to college – children of immigrants, F1 students and undocumented students.

“We don’t talk about this a lot at UDC, but we’re one of three HBCUs that accept undocumented students, and I think that we’re really leading the space of equity and ensuring that not only can undocumented students come and learn and access the education that they deserve to, but there are programs and services that support them,” McNally said.

October is LGBTQ+ History Month, an occasion McNally favors over LGBTQ+ Pride Month because Pride is commercialized in comparison. LGBTQ+ History Month allows people to understand the plight and celebrate the history of LGBTQ+ people.

She pointed to a few examples, including Lucy Diggs Slowe, the first Black woman to serve as a Dean of Women in any higher education institution.

McNally noted that she was “an out Black lesbian” who faced challenges at Howard University because of her sexuality.

Then there’s Pauli Murray, an activist rights activist who challenged sexual and gender identity norms.

“Their sexual orientation or gender was never actually centered in any of the narratives that we read about them, only more in a contemporary context,” McNally said.

She pointed to Alain Locke, the father of the Harlem Renaissance, as another example of a historical LGBTQ+ figure, “and yet, we leave his queerness out of the narrative, and I think that something that’s really disgracing to Black communities is that we shy away, and we hide away from who we are.”

“So for us at the CDIMA, we try to queer LGBTQ+ History Month as much as possible, and you’ll probably be like that’s an oxymoron, but we Black it. How do we tell the stories of Black LGBTQ+ people who have struggled, persevered, accomplished and succeeded against all odds? The first person who comes to mind here is Essex Hemphill, who attended UDC and participated in many forms of activism and direct actions, but is best known as a Nobel Laureate, a poet, a writer, an author, and before I created the scholarship in his honor, UDC never centered him in our narrative,” McNally said.

She expressed concern that if HBCUs close their eyes to educating about these historical and contemporary figures, it tells students that those stories don’t matter.

“We believe that people’s stories and their lives matter, so I think that this for us is a call to action for HBCUs to not only center Black LGBTQ+ people but to tell our complete stories so more students will be inspired, more students will be moved to achieve, and it’s something that happens in the psyche when you see yourself reflected,” McNally said.

“We have to move beyond the identity politics of it all, but how do students really see themselves reflected in the history because if you take a look at HBCUs, it feels like Black LGBTQ+ people were never there and that they never made any contributions, and we know that that is just not true,” she said.

Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day, which was designed to support people “coming out of the closet.” It was originally founded in the 1980s during the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a critical push for visibility of the tens of thousands of people who were dying in part to government inaction and negligence. We now use it as a day to support people in publicly revealing their sexual orientation and gender identity, but its origins are beyond identity. It was always political.

Furthermore, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) designated Oct. 18 as HBCU OUTLOUD Day for HBCU students, administrators, faculty, and staff to reaffirm their commitment to LGBTQ+ equality and celebrate the diversity milestones that have been met.

“There are so many organizations that do work for Black queer people, and I think that what makes HRC HBCU Day significant is that it typically kicks off before the Leadership Summit, and this summit brings across I think at least 20 to 30 schools together of student leaders that come together and learn how to advocate on their campus,” she said.

“They learn about student organizing, but most importantly, they are building community with each other coast to coast. I attended this program as an undergrad in 2011, and the program absolutely changed my life. It absolutely catapulted me into my career as a young professional,” McNally added.

“HBCU OUTLOUD Day celebrates the experiences of LGBTQ+ people at HBCUs, and it comes a week after National Coming Out Day, which typically is a day where some LGBTQ folks who haven’t been able to come out are able to come out and to be revered and honored in a particular way, because as folks know, coming out is not ever a one-time thing as an LGBTQ person. It’s never really an easy feat,” she said.

“I believe the significance of OUTLOUD Day on HBCU campuses is to promote inclusivity and allow queer-identifying folks to live in their truth on HBCU campuses,” said Kee’Manee Carter, a 2023 Kiburi Scholarship recipient 2023.

“I live OUTLOUD! Living OUTLOUD for me is living in my truth! Live in your truth as well,” Corey Haskett, a 2023 Kiburi Scholarship recipient, said.

McNally said that HBCU Out Loud Day is historic because it’s taking place on HBCU campuses, which for some people have been places of violence and sadness instead of acceptance.

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