Growing up as a queer woman in a black household, senior psychology major Monisola Oyelola never talked about sex or sexuality.
“Everything I learned was through Google,” she said. In the eyes of her parents, “my sexuality was said to be a submissive housewife to a man and that was that.”
Things changed for Oyelola when she came to Stony Brook and found House of Shade. Founded in the spring semester of 2018 by former student Aba Sealy, House of Shade is a club created specifically for black members of the LGBTQ* community.
“Having House of Shade gave me a safe space to speak about things related to being black and queer,” Oyelola said, “I could speak freely, and use common terminology and such, without feeling like I need to change myself to make those around me feel comfortable.”
Although there are groups for black students and groups for LGBTQ* students, Yasmin Fouchong-Brown, House of Shade president and senior health science major said that her club is unique because it is the only club that caters to the needs of people at the intersection of queerness and blackness.
“Black members of the LGBTQ* community have a unique struggle,” she wrote in an email. “There are members of the black community who will exclude black LGBTQ* members and their contributions (take, for example, Bayard Rustin,)” she wrote, referring to the gay civil rights leader who helped to organize the March on Washington. “Similarly, within the LGBTQ* community, there tends to be little discussion/action involving black members of this community (e.g. the average life expectancy of black transgender women and transgender women of color is 35 years old). There is also a common theme of feeling like we have to ‘choose a struggle’ of either being LGBTQ* or being black as if we cannot exist as both.”
The club holds general meetings on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. in the LGBTQ* Center conference hall. There, the members get together to talk about their personal lives as well as discuss issues affecting their community as a whole. Previous discussion topics included safe sex, labels, experiences of being LGBTQ* in a black family and representation of black and queer figures in the media.
“We aim to engage in conversations about the experiences of not only LGBTQ* people,
but black LGBTQ people,” Carine Green, treasurer of House of Shade and freshman political science and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies double major, said.
The club also hosts events throughout the semester. One of the most popular events the group held was the kiki ball. Popularized in the mainstream by the 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning,” ballroom culture is centered around competitions in which people “walk” and “vogue” for prizes. With the kiki ball, House of Shade opened up a new opportunity for Stony Brook students to partake in this subculture as well as educate those outside the black LGBTQ* community about ballroom.
Yasmine Steide, the club’s secretary and sophomore psychology major said that one of the main purposes of House of Shade is to “educate and advocate” by shining a light on the black, queer community and making others aware of the unique struggles they face.
“We have to show the problem before we can fix the problem,” she said.
Green noted the importance of the club as a symbol standing in defiance to those who try to spread hate or intolerance.
“We are here and whether or not you like us, we are here to stay,” they said. “We’re a prominent force to be reckoned with.”