HRC Blog

My Experience Representing LGBT HBCU Students at the White House

The following post comes to us from Michael O. Evans, a student at Winston-Salem State University, who stood behind President Obama last week as he signed an Executive Order "Promoting Excellence, Innovation, and Sustainability at Historically Black Colleges and Universities" Michael Evans watches over the President's left shoulder as he signs the Executive Order. On February 27, 2010 I was invited to the White House to meet President Barack Obama and other leaders on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign and the National Black Justice Coalition. I was there as a representative of LGBTQ students attending historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). When the day finally came and I arrived at the airport, I quickly found out that the flight to D.C. had been cancelled due to inclement weather.  As this was a once in a life time opportunity, I immediately made plans to secure a transfer to fly into the Baltimore airport where I was warmly greeted by Ms. Donna Payne, Associate Director of Diversity for HRC who immediately made me feel apart of the HRC family. After being escorted by Ms. Payne to the HRC headquarters I met the amazing people behind the advocacy work. Mr. Joey Gaskins, Diversity Student Coordinator gave me a great tour and introduced me to the staff team of HRC. We later convened for lunch at the Willard Hotel where I met the executive director of NBJC Ms. Sharon Lettman, who shared her experiences and offered advice as to how to overcome some of the struggles our LGBTQ campus community often faces. Left to right: Joey Gaskins (HRC Diversity Student Coordinator); Sharon Lettman (Executive Director, National Black Justice Coaltion); Michael Evans (Student, Winston-Salem State University); Lauren Waters (Student, Bennett College); Donna Payne (Associate Director of the Diversity Program, HRC). After lunch, we walked to the gates of the White House and met with various political and educational diplomats and engaged in stimulating and enlightening dialogue. With light snow gracing the grounds and the harsh wind whipping the streets, we patiently waited for the registration to start and after passing through security we were escorted into the ballroom where we sat waiting for the event to begin. I was looking around trying to catch a glimpse of where President Obama would enter the room when a gentleman came into the room and called my name and the name of the student from Bennett College, Lauren. I had never imagined that anyone would walk into a room and call my name out in the crowd. An immediate nervousness rushed over both of us as we were slowly escorted out of the room not knowing what was about to take place. We were both ushered into another room where we were talking to some of the guards and in walks President Obama with a calm and steady stride and demeanor. We were both in mental shock, but quickly pulled our composure together.  We had a brief conversation with the President as he congratulated us on our achievements. We were then told to walk onto the stage with the other selected few diplomats. (l-r) Michael Evans, Dr. Dorothy Height, Lauren Bennett, and Dr. Malveaux, President of Bennett College The event began and President Obama walked out again and took the stage. He signed the executive order, “Promoting Excellence, Innovation, and Sustainability at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)” and I could clearly see that our president is left-handed as he signed the document. It was truly amazing to see such an extraordinary man recognize the LGBTQ community in front of America. It was so symbolic for me that he acknowledged that we exist and that we represent the future of this great country. None of this could have been possible had it not been for my advisor Chevara Orrin, who serves as the Director of Conferences and Institutes at Winston-Salem State University. Her advocacy and support for the LGBTQ community as an agent of change is inspiring. I have personally witnessed her dedication to securing human rights and social justice for all people. I am so deeply appreciative for the HRC and NBJC, as well as Ms. Donna Payne and Ms. Sharon Lettman for warmly accepting me and their sponsorship of my incredible trip. I would like to express my sincere appreciation and deepest gratitude to all who made this possible.

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