IN ONE OF Alice Walker's short stories, she writes of the unfailing hospitality of the blacks toward the young people who came south in the dangerous summer of 1965 to teach them how to vote. "I realize that each and every house we visited, I assumed kindness," the black woman in the story says. "I assumed hospitality."
Fifteen years later, there's still one group of blacks who can't assume kindness from the community -- young black homosexuals. The black community, from rich to poor, usually regards them with an icy distaste, and, at best, insists that their lifestyle remain closeted.
Black poet Michaelle Parkerson, who announced she was a lesbian at a feminist conference last year, said, "Throughout our history in this land, homosexuality in the black community has been considered the ultimate taboo. I will tell you this decision [to go public] has been without a doubt one of the most crucial in my life and one of the most definitive."
A male homosexual, who wouldn't give his name for fear he would lose his job, said, "The black community is tremendously prejudiced. It feels resentment and disguest in the sense that black gays are the other extreme."
"Among blacks who are poor," he added "black gays are seen as being bourgeois, and street folks can't deal with that.
"Then, in straight black community, there is a shortage of men to begin with, so many black women detest gay men. I don't see things changing that much either . . . "
At its most tolerant, the black community seems to adopt an attitude that homosexuals are all right as long as they are seen but not heard.
The black churches are a good example.
"The black church is conservative, yet it is tolerant of its own if they do not parade whatever it is that's wrong with them," said A. Knighton Stanley, the Yale-educated minister at People's Congregational Church in the District.
"If our chruch were to vote on whether to receive gays they would vote against it. But if you ask if there are gays in oour church, the answer is yes and they're received with open arms. And as long as they don't recruit, they're A-OK."
Largely because of the attitude of the community and fear of losing their jobs, black gays are less likely to be open about their homosexuality than are their white counterparts.
"The white gay community loves to make a public spectacle of itself -- most blacks don't do that," said one black homosexual. "They don't see being gay as the be-all and end-all.;
Added another: "In the black gay community, the most important aspect is being black. One's sexual preference is secondary; it's not elevated into a socio-cultural perspective.
"Black gays don't need a separate church; for example, they want to be in mainstream churches. Most black gays have no need to come out and flaunt their lifestyles."
That may be just another way of staying in the closet, but there are some signs that reticence is starting to change.
The new president of Gay Activist Alliance is a black. A 16-page monthly newsletter for black gays, "Blacklight," advertises black gay nightclubs and features articles such as "D.C.'s Emerging Black Gay Middle Class." Howard University has what is believed to be the first openly gay student group at a predominantly black college; the group will try to become chartered this fall.
At the Market 5 Gallery on Capitol Hill, Alexis De Veaux, poetry editor of Essence magazine, and Parkerson recently read their poems about women loving other women. Sweet Honey in the Rock, a musical group of five black women, has dealt with the theme in its music. "Every woman whoever loved a woman ought to stand up and call her name," it says in a song on one album.
Some blacks feel that these new tides threaten the "relevant" issues, as one scholarly woman told me. But concerns about jobs and educational opportunities and just getting a piece of America are shared by the gays, too. Often, they can offer a unique perspective for attacking these problems.
As poet Ethelbert Miller, a heterosexual, who has lectured on homosexual themes in black literature, says: "By understanding them, we learn more about what it is to be human, about the full range of black experience."