Last year, Spelman College opened its doors to trans students. This year, an openly trans male student will graduate from the historically black college for women.
This week, Keo O’Neal posted his graduation picture on Twitter with the caption, “first ’openly’ trans man to graduate from Spelman College.” The photo has since gone viral, collecting over 6,000 retweets and 32,000 likes and counting.
— black bandit (@Saint_Keo) May 14, 2018
Spelman announced in September 2017 it would revise its admissions and enrollment policy to be inclusive of trans people. In a letter about the change, the college’s president, Mary S. Campbell, wrote: “If a woman is admitted and transitions to male while a student at Spelman, the College will permit that student to continue to matriculate at and graduate from Spelman.”
O’Neal, 21, first enrolled at Spelman in 2014, but transferred to a predominately white institution for his sophomore year before returning to Spelman.
“I came back to Spelman my junior year because although I could flourish in my queerness [at the PWI], I felt like I was denying my blackness, and I was nothing more than a body to those folks,” O’Neal told HuffPost.
But after Spelman made its admissions policy more inclusive of trans people, reports of homophobic and transphobic notes circulating the campus began to surface.
Earlier this month, three handwritten notes were found slipped underneath the doors of at least three students’ dorm rooms, each containing different anti-LGBT messages. One note said: “Keep Spelman safe. No queers.”
Others said “Keep your tran[s] out of our bathrooms Thanks!” and “#DIE…We don’t want you here.”
“I love that Spelman is progressing and opening its doors to trans women, but to me, it’s a bit reactionary,” O’Neal told Blavity. “Spelman doesn’t know how to handle the issues we are currently having with queer students; I’m not sure what will, if anything, change when trans women start attending.”
— black bandit (@Saint_Keo) May 3, 2018
Ultimately, O’Neal hopes his graduation pictures inspire any person wanting to transition and walk in their truth.
“For someone following in my footsteps, I would tell them to be brave,” he said. “Transitioning was one brave step now living in that truth takes even more bravery. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it, just drown out the background noise.”