Spelman College wants to change history as they formally announced in 2017 transgender students would be accepted to the historically black college. This graduation season, a student by the name of Keo O’Neal made history as he became the first openly trans man to graduate from the school.
On May 13, O’Neal posted his graduation picture to his Twitter with the caption, “first ‘openly’ trans man to graduate from Spelman College”. The photo has since gone viral racking up over 5,000 retweets and 31,000 likes and counting.
“I love that Spelman is progressing and opening its doors to trans women but to me, it’s a bit reactionary,” said O’Neal to Blavity Tuesday (May 15). He explained how they weren’t quite prepared with programs and education for his community.
“Spelman isn’t ready for such a great change to happen. Spelman should have agreed to the policy but put it off for another five years to really plan and decide what was to happen on campus to ensure the comfort and safety of trans and queer students. Spelman doesn’t know how to handle the issues we are currently having with queer students; I’m not sure what will or if anything will change when trans women start attending.”
The 21-year-old first enrolled at the school in 2014 and briefly transferred to a PWI for his sophomore year. After returning to Spelman, he continued as a history major for a few reasons. “I came back to Spelman my junior year because although I could flourish in my queerness, I felt like I was denying my blackness and I was nothing more than a body to those folks,” O’Neal said to HuffPost.
In the future, O’Neal hopes his graduation photo will act as inspiration for fellow people in his same position. “For someone following in my footsteps, I would tell them to be brave,” said O’Neal. “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.”
With all of the viral attention, O’Neal is hoping the universe will align his life with a job, but he plans to take some time off first before obtaining his Ph.D this fall. “Right now, I’m on the job hunt! Not necessarily looking to stay in my major but I definitely want to do something I love,” he said.
He also wants to take some time to work with LGBTQIA+ nonprofits. The decision to work with nonprofits may stem from O’Neal admitting to feeling invisible at times. “Before I transitioned and before I ‘passed,’ it was hard to assert myself and tell people my pronouns or explain that I’m trans. It’s hard to exist in a space where you feel invisible,” said O’Neal.
Back in May, reports surfaced about homophobic and transphobic notes passed around campus.”I was never targeted by the homophobic and transphobic notes,” O’Neal said. “I thought I would be after the first one surfaced, but nothing was ever directed towards me. I was shocked that it had even happened.”
In the end, O’Neal is happy for the tribe that supported him at Spelman. “I could not have made it this far without the encouragement of others,” he said. “It truly takes a village. For everyone who played a part in my successes, this is a win for all of us.”