Monday, March 31, 2014

Jane's Letter Concerning The Attacks On Aaron

TransGriot Note:  Jane Vaughan is a former Winston-Salem State University student and past president of the WSSU Gay-Straight Student Alliance (now called Prism) .  She along with Chevara Orrin alerted me to the situation that is transpiring on the WSSU campus involving the homophobic hate being stirred up in social media and aimed at WSSU student Aaron McCorkle

This is her letter addressing it dated March 30th.
Good Afternoon:
Winston-Salem State University's LGBT community needs your help! In a vicious social media attack, WSSU junior, Aaron McCorkle is being bullied and harassed via Twitter because another student released a two-year old image of Aaron "dressed in drag." The trending Twitter topic, "Gay & Crossdressing Mr. WSSU Candidate Causing Major Controversy" has elicited numerous biased and bigoted comments from many in the campus community. While the university has been made aware of the release of the image, they are not proactively educating the campus body by providing sensitivity training or creating safer spaces for LGBT students who may be negatively impacted by this unfortunate incident.
Aaron is an openly gay student who is an active and respected member of the university student body. He was elected Mr. Freshman (2011-2012), Student Government Association Freshman Class Council (2011-2012), Mr. Sophomore (2012-2013), and Mr. Mass Communications (2013), and has served in numerous leadership roles within various student organizations including NAACP Student Representative, Campus Activities Board, and Prism (LGBT org). He is also a Thurgood Marshall College Fund Scholar. In addition, Aaron serves the broader community by volunteering with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Second Harvest Food Bank.
The disparaging and violent tweets question the appropriateness of his candidacy for Mr. WSSU and some even call for physical harm against him. Most disturbing are the tweets from Brian "BDAHT" McLaughlin. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is the newest cast member to Season 6 of Nick Cannon's Wildn Out on MTV2, Comedian on 102 JAMZ Wild Out Wake Up Show (since August 2005) and the PA Announcer for WSSU Athletics (since August 2005). As a radio and television personality, BDAHT has a wide following. As a campus ambassador, it is most inappropriate for him to attack a student in this manner. He tweeted, "If y'all let a drag Queen be Mr. #WSSU, I quit. Straight up."; "#WSSU: y'all really letting a dude, that goes out in drag #nshit, run for Mr. Ram? Have y'all lost y'all mutha fuckin minds, man?!"; "Yes we ARE talking about this putrid shit. Y'all have completely lost it. The nigga dresses in drag, & HE will represent our school?"; and "...Get the fuck outta here. Ya turning the position into a fucking joke. Clowns."

Although, BDHAT states in his twitter bio that his views are not the views of 102 Jamz or MTV2,  I believe that it is reflective of his roles and responsibilities within these organizations. From my perspective, BDHAT's representation of MTV2, 102 Jamz, and Winston-Salem State University is far more questionable than an authentically openly gay young man who may occasionally express gender variance.
I have spoken with many current students (gay and straight allies) who belong to the LGBT student organization, Prism that say they are afraid to speak out or feel that this issue does not directly impact them. According to Campus Pride, the leading national nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBT students, "Like other forms of oppression, homophobia not only oppresses members of the target or minority groups (gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people), but also, on many levels, hurts members of the agent or dominant group (heterosexuals). As a result, everyone eventually loses, and more specifically, the negative effect of homophobia remains alive.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for appalling silence of the good people." I refuse to stand in silence. I stand in active solidarity with Aaron McCorkle and others at WSSU who are marginalized and victimized for being their authentic selves. 
As a former WSSU student and president of the WSSU Gay-Straight Student Alliance (now Prism), I am angered and saddened that people have stooped to such levels and caused dissension within the WSSU family while perpetuating stereotypes against the LGBT community in order to win an election. In 2013, at the University of Houston-Downtown, third-year social work major, student Kristopher Sharp was the victim of a vicious smear campaign that revealed his HIV-positive status in order to keep him from winning the student vice-presidency. Flyers and graffiti were plastered across the campus. Sharp ultimately won the election.
This is yet one example of on-going attacks against students at college campuses and schools across our nation. From the 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers University because his roommate released a video of an intimate encounter with another man to this past week's report of eight year-old Sunnie Kahl in Lynchburg, VA being told by school administrators that "she’s not feminine enough," those of us that belong to the LGBT community are being targeted and singled out.
I know firsthand the pain of being alienated as an LGBT college student. While attending WSSU, I was “outed.”  My family rejected me after they discovered that I identified as a lesbian. Had it not been for the WSSU Gay-Straight Student Alliance, I would have had nowhere to turn. No support. No hope. Through the organization I was given a light of hope with the support structure, community leaders, career/job opportunities, and other endless possibilities!  The executive board of GSSA, including myself had the grand opportunity of being a part of the first LGBT panel at the Congressional Black Caucus, attended the OUT for Work conference and the Human Right Campaign’s HBCU LGBT Career and Leadership Summit. We also regularly participated in policy, advocacy and education discourse through our monthly organizational meetings. When I experienced discrimination from an instructor at WSSU, I was able to advocate for myself because of the leadership of our advisors and support they garnered from the broader community. I knew then that I would always be an active participant in addressing injustice against the LGBT community.
Those experiences, and others too numerous to name were life changing. We are all responsible should this matter escalate any further into an act of violence against Aaron or any other gender non-conforming WSSU student. This is our time to speak up and stand strong! I will not choose to stay in the closet with the door open enough for me to see the world and for the world to see me. I will not succumb to society’s discomfort by remaining silent. 
When will it end? Homophobia, transphobia and misogyny must be addressed at WSSU. We need to have honest discussions about black masculinity, hyper-masculinity, hyper-femininity and the impact on the LGBT community. We need honest, ongoing dialogue and training to combat discrimination against our students…our future leaders. We need honest dialogue to understand why the image of a man who does not conform to traditional clothing norms causes such immediate vitriol. We have created space in the black community for Tyler Perry as Madea, Martin Lawrence as Big Momma, Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier as Men on Film, Flip Wilson as Geraldine, and Wesley Snipes as Noxzema. Perhaps we are more comfortable with caricatures that continue to perpetuate gender biased and sexist stereotypes. We have created space for Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Janelle Monae. Why can't we create space for Aaron McCorkle and other students who may be gender variant?
Winston-Salem State University’s mission states, "Preparing diverse students for success in the 21st century...” Diversity on the campus is not limited to race, nationality, and religion but also includes sexual orientation. In 2008, former WSSU administrator Chevara Orrin and WSSU Student Services Specialist, Thomas Clark co-founded the first-ever WSSU GSSA. Seven months later the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to expand protections to include "sexual orientation" for the first time in the university's history. While we celebrated this triumph, it was clear that the journey for equality was far from over as the original language had been amended to exclude "gender identity" and "gender expression."
The recent chain of events highlights clearly the importance of broader protections that include gender non-conforming and transgender students. The university's mission also states, "As a comprehensive, historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina, Winston-Salem State University contributes to the social, cultural, intellectual and economic growth of the region, North Carolina and beyond. " Now is time for WSSU to take action with those words. The University must address the issue of the bullying and harassment of Aaron McCorkle if it seeks to be a leader in our nation.
Join me in speaking for those who have no voice. Let us use this incident as an opportunity to educate, build bridges between the heterosexual and LGBT people and create a platform to expand the current discrimination policy and strengthen our campus community.
Homophobia has a cure: EDUCATION! 
**Attached, please find images of the twitter discussions.
Jane Vaughan
Past President
Winston-Salem State University Gay Straight Student Alliance

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