A national gay and lesbian rights group gave its endorsement and a hefty contribution yesterday to D.C. delegate candidate Eleanor Holmes Norton to the dismay of some local gay activists, who said that the group should have endorsed candidate Betty Ann Kane or stayed out of the race.

Kane, an at-large member of the D.C. Council, said that if the Human Rights Campaign Fund found it necessary to be involved in the local race, it should have thrown its weight behind the candidate who has the support of local groups and campaign fund members.

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, a local gay group, has endorsed Kane. But the D.C. Coalition of Black Gay Men and Women, although it does not make actual endorsements, rated Norton highest among the delegate candidates.

Neither group has a political lock on the diverse gay community.

Tim McFeeley, executive director of the fund, said its executive committee interviewed five of the delegate candidates, including Kane. The fund consulted with numerous members and other activists in the local gay community, said Gregory King, the fund's spokesman.

The vote between Kane and Norton, both Democrats, was "very close," said McFeeley. But the fund committee decided to endorse and give $5,000 to Norton because "in interviewing and studying the platforms of the candidates we came to believe that Eleanor Holmes Norton will be an extraordinary congressperson for the District of Columbia," he said.

"I don't understand why people in the District of Columbia believe this is local and we shouldn't get involved," McFeeley said. "All congressional candidates want the endorsements of politically active national groups. And all of Mrs. Norton's opponents want our endorsements too."

Asked if she would have accepted the fund's endorsement had it been offered her, Kane said, "I think that's an academic question . . . . I would have been a confirmation and a support for what the local group decided."

"The only thing it does reinforce again is how much Mrs. Norton is willing to ignore and is ignorant of the local situation and people," Kane said.

Norton dismissed the flap over the endorsement as a non-issue. "The reason this is a non-issue, if I can say so, is that I know Betty Ann Kane tried to get it," Norton said.

Kane has made Norton's national endorsements an issue in the campaign, saying they show the degree to which Norton has been uninvolved with local issues and groups.

Along with several local endorsements, Norton has received numerous others from national groups, including the National Organization for Women's political action committee, the National Abortion Rights Action League and the National Women's Political Caucus.

Norton, a longtime civil rights activist and former head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Carter administration, leads Kane and the rest of the field of delegate candidates in both campaign contributions and endorsements.

The lobbying to stop the Human Rights Campaign Fund endorsement was heavy.

A group of gay activists who described themselves as supporters of Kane wrote a letter to the fund in July that read, in part, "We believe that an endorsement of any candidate is needlessly divisive among the local members and supporters of {the campaign fund}. But we believe that it would be a disastrous mistake for {the campaign fund} to endorse Ms. Norton over Ms. Kane."

Bob Dardano, Stein's vice president for legislative and political action, characterized the debate about the endorsement as a difference of opinion, not a serious split in the gay community.

Of the the fund, Dardano said, "I'm not convinced they made a complete effort . . . . We weren't really asked."

But others said that view does not take into account the diversity of the gay community and the number of groups representing it.

"Stein wants to believe they represent the whole gay and lesbian community," said Carlene Cheatam of the D.C. Coalition of Black Gay Men and Women. "I don't think there is a general consensus in the community."