They meet once a week in a dimly lit basement lounge on the campus of Howard University. They are the Lambda Student Alliance, believed to be the first openly gay student organization on a black university or college campus.
LSA's primary functions are to educate the Howard community about gays and to provide a support network for gay Howard students -- many of whom may feel that they have nowhere else to turn.
Co-chairs Warrior Richardson and Chi Hughes, male and female, respectively, share the leadership of the six-month-old group which strives to be non-sexist and aims to attract women and men.
At a recent meeting -- as many as 50 students have attended -- much discussion centered around ways the group could help next year's incoming freshman.
"At the very least, we can answer their questions," Hughes said. "A lot of them will ask things like 'How do I tell my parents that I'm gay?' or 'What should I tell my roommates?' And yes, there are a fair amount of them who just want to be directed to the gay bars in DC. The point is, we're here.
"Before I came out," she said, "I thought that no one else at school could possibly be gay. Afterwards, I was amazed. Perhaps the most important thing we can do for students is let them know that they are not alone -- you'd be surprised to know how many Howard brothers and sisters are gay."
A black Howard University instructor, who is gay, believes the group is providing a valuable service. "There have always been gay students on every college campus, but no one has addressed the concerns of blacks," he said.
"It was important for this group to be a campus group because there are already black gay groups in the community, but there were people on this campus who were very much in need of our support."
Estimating that the number of gay men at Howard could be as high as one-third of the total male student population, he explained that blacks view homosexuality much differently than whites.
"It (homosexulaity) can be accepted, but you don't bring it out. Even if everybody knows it, you don't flaunt it. You have to keep it in the closet." This attitude, he added, may stem from "a cultural emphasis on masculinity that's a very heavy trip. Gays are really perceived as a threat by the heterosexual black male," some of whom feel the existence of black gays undermines the image of the strong black man.
Organizations such as the Lambda Student Alliance will hopefully help to change this attitude, he said. "Perhaps now, you will find black intellectuals who would normally drift along silently beginning to speak up and say, 'We are who we are, and we want to be accepted as we are."
But there are those on campus who believe gays and the Alliance have no place at Howard.
"I feel," says Kali Hill, outgoing president of the Howard University Student Association," "that homosexuality is an abomination, and would be a destructive force on this campus . . . We have to consider the dangers of homosexuality and ask ourselves if this is something that the black community needs."
Under university regulations, a student group cannot be chartered, thus gaining access to student body funds, until they have the valid signatures of 10 students and the president of the Howard University Student Association. 1Hill said he would not sign a charter for the LSA, and incoming president Andre Gatson, who term begins next month, has warned the Lambdas not to look to him for the required signature either.
LSA co-chairs Richardson and Hughes say the group plans to take their quest for a charter to the highest levels of the university administration, if necessary. But Howard public information officer Alan Hermesch, acting as a spokesman for the university administration, would say only that it is not university policy to interfere with decisions made by HUSA regarding student activities.
Asked to comment on incoming president Gatson's statement that the homosexual student has no place at Howard, Hermesch would only quote from governmental regulations prohibiting such discrimination. Howard president James E. Cheek, he added, "does not involve himself in student matters." Cheek did not return telephone calls for a reporter seeking a response to Gatson's statement.
Both Hughes and Richardson say the issue of their charter will have to be resolved -- one way of another -- very soon. Despite strong opposition on campus, particularly from Muslims who have been openly hostile, they need only two more valid signatures before presenting their application to either Hill or Gatson.
"I'm really surprised by Andre's (Gatson) attitudes," Hughes said. "During his campaign, he made a strong appeal to the more liberal and openminded students. I voted for him. It's a shock to discover that he isn't tolerant of viewpoints other than his own. That kind of thinking is more dangerous to this university than any issue of sexual preference."
Nearly every local campus except the University of the District of Columbia has a gay student organization, and some of them have run into problems similars to LSA's.
At Georgetown University, gay students have been seeking recognition from school officials for the past two years. According to Jim Ryan, president of Gay People of Georgetown, the group has had the support of much of the G.U. student body since its inception.
The Georgetown administration's revocation of the recognition originally granted them by the student government represents the first time in the history of the school that such an action has been taken, Ryan said.
He added that the group, which has about 50 men and women who regularly attend meetings, has made a significant contribution to campus life. Organizations such as GPOG are necessary not only to educate the straight community but also to help homosexuals themselves dispel some of the myths about being gay, Ryan said.
"You talk about sterotypes, well, homosexuals have them, too," he said. "Like everyone else, some of us need to learn that being gay doesn't mean wearing women's clothes and tooling around in cars offering rides to small children."
While both the Georgetown and Howard groups have been beset by trouble from the start, there are some campuses where gay rights is not a controversial issue.
George Washington University, whose group, the Gay People's Alliance, is often called the most powerful student organization of its kind, is one. According to its president, Harry Field, the group receives the third highest amount of money (from the student government) of any group on campus. Their operating budget for 1979 was more than $10,000 with $900 of that coming from student funds, and the rest from group-sponsored activities.
Field says the G.W. student government and the administration have been very tolerant of their existence on campus, "and you don't find that the majority of students are actively opposed to us although the door to the office always has graffiti on it."
At American University, Jimmy Lewis, who is president of the American University Gay Community, says that homosexual A.U. students encounter relatively little hostility from other students. The organization is "treated like just another student group" by the administration, he says. Yet he, like many gay students in the area, has chosen to live off campus in order to avoid the "stifling" atmosphere of a predominantly heterosexual environmental.
"I can't paint a totally rosy picture," he said. "Many of the straight students don't like us, but in Washington, as in other East Coast liberal cities, it's frowned upon to be anti-gay. It's like being openly racist or sexist. But the hostility is definitely underground."
Lewis, who is black, was not surprised to learn that the Howard University group is having problems. "Homosexuality is less acceptable to certain segments of the black community," he explained.
The 22-year-old native New Yorker added that he was surprised to find the Washington gay community "so openly segregated," and said that fact alone would be reason to support the formation of a primarily black gay group at Howard.
A young woman senior at Catholic University, where there is also a group of gays and lesbians, suggested that the Howard students might find life easier if they "just moved off campus and were cool about the whole thing."
Howard's Warrior Richardson will have none of that. "Being gay isn't something you go into quarantine for," he countered. Even now the Lambdas are busy preparing for Gay Pride Week in June. "We have come out of the closet," Richardson concluded, "and we are here to stay."