For a few local men, tonight's broadcast of a documentary on the life of black gays is a chance to show the world that they are alive.

"It proves we exist," said Steve Langley, who sings an original composition at the end of "Tongues Untied," to be shown on local Public Broadcasting System stations.

"Black people say we {black gays} don't exist and this puts those notions to the side. It is documentation . . . of my own existence."

While Langley and others see the film as a major step forward for the black gay community, the nature and content of the broadcast has angered some conservative groups. Among the images featured in the documentary is that of two bare-chested men caressing and kissing each other.

"The liberties it took in showing the proclivity of homosexuality were repulsive," said Paul Hetrick, vice president of Focus on the Family, a Christian media company in Pomona, Calif.

Publicity about the documentary has prompted some public television subscribers to threaten withdrawal of financial support. Dozens of PBS affiliates have decided not to show the film, and others pushed it into late-night time slots.

It will be shown in the Washington area at 11 p.m. on WETA (Channel 26) and WHMM (Channel 32).

The seven District participants, most of whom are surprised to see the film on television at all, say they feel nothing but pride about their association with the program.

"Watching it again recently, I thought how important and necessary it may be for the black lesbian and gay community to go into our own black community to say, 'You're oppressing us,' " said Wayson Jones, a composer and musician.

"I hope people see some reflection of their own prejudices and realize it's not okay to make jokes and putdowns about us, to understand we are part of the family and community. We've always been there, always will be there and everyone knows it -- especially the black church."

Some of the men said they had not been openly gay before the film project began and have since hastily come out of the closet. But the project, they say, was worth the sacrifice.

Ron Simmons, a photographer and assistant professor in the Radio, Television and Film Department at Howard University, said he was reluctant to participate in the project at first.

"I had just started teaching full time at Howard and I was reluctant to be known as a black gay man," said Simmons. While some people knew he was gay, he said, "going on TV is different, very public.

"But I thought about this and I said, 'Too many of my friends have died and are not here for me to remain silent,' I think that is why you'll see a lot more expressions of black gay culture.

" 'Tongues Untied' is going to help the black community deal with the challenge of homophobia."

Though only his voice is used in "Tongues Untied," Christopher Prince, 36, knew people might recognize him.

"I was half out before," he said, laughing. "I always felt heterosexuals don't have to disclose the details of their sexual life, why should I? Now this is the beginning of a new part of my life.

"When will this article run? I think I need to talk to my father."

Most of the District participants have known each other at least since 1986, when they used to gather with other artists in a Northeast Washington carriage house that they turned into a cozy coffeehouse. There they performed original pieces before small audiences.

One of the first Washingtonians involved in "Tongues Untied" was writer Essex Hemphill, who now lives in Philadelphia.

He and several of the actors recorded a choral arrangement of "Brother to Brother: Words from the Heart," a tribute to love between black men by the late writer and editor Joseph Beam.

Marlon Riggs, the San Francisco-based producer, heard the recording and the words eventually became part of the film.

"It sets a point of departure for indicating for all of us what more needs to be probed," Hemphill, 34, said of the film. "I believe over the next 10 years our voices will become stronger."

"I think we have an insight that is unique and essential to saving our community," said Larry Duckett, 30, an administrative assistant on Capitol Hill who recites poetry and appears in a street scene in the video.

"Next to being born black, being gay is one of my greatest assets -- because of what the struggle has done to my character."

Prince said the boldness of "Tongues Untied" may be what has offended some. But the boldness, said Prince "reflects the place of black gay men in the culture. You can only stand on the sidelines for so long before you scream.

"A whisper is always more pleasant, but sometimes a scream is necessary."