This story is part of QnotesCarolinas’ special project “Stories of Black LGBTQ Resilience and Economic Mobility,” which seeks to connect responses to economic security and upward mobility to the lives and futures of Black LGBTQ people. It is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network.
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On a summer Tuesday afternoon, one of many planes lands at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Among those disembarking is a tall, dark and handsome young man.
Dressed in a light grey suit, complete with starched white shirt, purple paisley tie and a gold lapel pin, he looks ready for a business meeting. Frank D. Dorsey II, Johnson C. Smith University’s (JCSU) Associate Director of Student Leadership and Engagement has just returned from Arkansas, the place he was born and educated before making the decision to call Charlotte home.
As he makes his way through the busy concourse, Dorsey reflects on his role at JCSU, his impending departure and what’s next.
So, you’re returning from Arkansas?
Yes. I hadn’t seen my family in a while. Plus, after over a year of [COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest] chaos, I wanted to spend time and my 30th birthday with my mom.
So why the suit? Do you always dress up to travel?
[Chuckles] Yes, ‘cause I never know who I’m going to run into at the airport?
Sounds like presentation is important to you.
Absolutely. As a Black gay male professional, it comes with so many stereotypes. I feel like I have to break the stereotype of what it’s thought a Black man and a Black gay man should look like. Though I feel like people’s individual differences should be respected, I’m always in a situation where attire is political. Especially in the work that I do. As the youngest administrator sitting across from the table from more seasoned professionals, I want to be taken seriously. That means looking the part. If I walk around campus in sneakers and jeans, I’m easily mistaken for a student. I’ve had moments [on and off campus] when it’s obvious that there’s bias regarding appearance. Those are moments that I use as teaching experiences.
What’s something you’d teach or want others to know about how appearance shows up in the lives of Black LGBTQ folks or Black folks in general?
Respectability politics is a survival mechanism.
How long have you lived in Charlotte?
Four years and six months. I share an uptown apartment with a roommate, my best friend of 10 years.
Would you share with qnotes readers a little about what you do at JCSU?
I started working for JCSU after grad school at Arkansas Tech University. I oversee student activities and student organizations. I also provide leadership to the diversity and inclusion program for our student population.
What do you like most about your job?|
The freedom to shake the table when necessary. I really get a chance to be an advocate for students and my colleagues always seem to appreciate my input. Even though I’m very frank about it at times, they’ve always been supportive.
Speaking of shaking the table, how do you think historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) like JCSU have assisted in the empowerment of the Black LGBTQ community?
I feel like it’s progressed over the years. At one time the narrative was that HBCUs were slow to extend their social justice mission to the Black LGBT community. But today, I feel as though they have progressed to be allies, advocates and family.
Can you elaborate?
Healing happens on HBCU campuses. So, whether you are singing in the choir, marching in the band or walking with the modeling club, you find areas on campus where you can truly connect. You have an opportunity to share your experiences and learn from others through the art of storytelling. A lot of that happens on campus. Several have moved towards opening LGBT centers. NC Central University and NCA&T are two of them. JCSU has sponsored organizations like Charlotte Black Pride and remains open to partnering with them, HRC and Equality NC. They’re our three primary partnerships.
Sounds like lots of diversity, inclusion and LGBTQ Pride work going on. Any personal plans for Pride season this year?
I’m going to try to increase my number of speaking appearances for Pride — trying to get in front of some crowds who only see Pride as festivities and not the opportunity for education, awareness and advocacy that it is.
Aside from Pride Season activities, what does Frank Dorsey enjoy doing when he’s not working?
Photography. I enjoy taking photos of people and the outside world. I really enjoy outdoor photography. If it’s a great day outside, I will take my camera and just explore. Next Mother’s Day I plan on doing a mother-son exhibit capturing mothers and sons in different settings.
After such a long, dedicated career at JCSU, I understand you’ll be leaving. What brought about that decision?
I lost my grandmother during the pandemic. Since losing her, I’ve decided to be closer to my family, to make sure my nephews make good choices; the military, college, starting their own businesses. I just want to make sure they aren’t lost to the gains of quick money. I want to be an active role model in their lives. They’re 14 and 16 years old. I want to go to their games and cheer them on, like they’ve always cheered me on.
Any employment plans yet?
I’ll be the Associate Dean of Students for Activities at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. I’m excited about it. It’s where I graduated from with my undergrad in general studies, with a concentration in recreation and wellness.
Do you have a partner? Are you leaving anyone behind or is someone special joining you on your Arkansas adventure?
Yes, I have a partner. We’ve been together for two years now. He’s a doctoral student at Howard, so it’s always been long-distance. He’s very supportive of my career, and we’ve made a commitment not to get in the way of each other’s dreams. To do the work that I do in creating more inclusive campuses is a dream — to be able to do that on the campus I grew up on is a dream and a blessing.
Is there anything special you want to do before leaving Charlotte for Arkansas?
I’m honestly not viewing it as I am leaving. I’ll no longer work here anymore, but I’m so connected to the city, I don’t feel like this is goodbye. I still attend church here and so many other things that matter to me. The pandemic taught us how to stay connected. So, whenever I come to Charlotte, I feel like I’m home.
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Charlotte Black Pride was created 16 years ago when previous leaders of Charlotte Pride were less inclusive, co-founder and Director of Development Jermaine Nakia Lee said. Though the two sister organizations work in tandem now to support each other, Charlotte Black Pride was formed to create what was then a nonexistent space for Black LGBTQ+…