The Gay movement comes to Howard University
By Bill Stevens
Howard University, founded in 1867, was the first college to be dedicated solely to the education of African Americans.
Now, Howard has become the scene of another first, the first organized Gay student group on a Black college campus, the Lambda Student Alliance (LSA).
Though there has always been Gay students at Howard, there has never been an organized effort to pull them together.
Howard University is a community, a Black community and coming out in a Black community has never been easy. Add to that the atmosphere of the campus in particular and it becomes even more evident why such a move has not been taken before.
Howard is considered a training ground for the Black elite. A large percentage of Black professionals come out of Howard. Very precise role models exist for Howard students.
Measuring up to the image of the "Howard Man" or "Howard Woman" can place a heavy burden on straight students, but it can place an even heavier one on Gays. The image is one of a special breed of African American, educated, sophisticated and straight.
The drive to live up to that straight middle class image, coupled with strong peer pressure, could explain why LSA has received some of its most vocal criticism not just from straight students but other Gay students as well.
For the most part, these are students who feel comfortable with things the way they are. Others feel threatened by the existence of a Gay organization on campus.
Several Gay students said they would join only if the group was kept a secret. Others vowed not to be a part of the group under any circumstances and questioned the need for such an organization on campus.
Lambda member Warrior Richardson says, "The objectives of the Lambda Student Alliance are to use Howard as a base for struggle against the oppression of Gays and to provide social activities for Howard Gay students that are otherwise denied them. We also intend to be a support group for Howard Gay students and to educate the community about homosexuality."
Currently the LSA has about 15 members, nearly half of them women. But coming out has not been easy for the members of the Alliance. It has been a step by step process.
The first meetings took place off campus with place and time passed on by word of mouth. The first posters offering information about the organization did not mention the word Gay.
The posters simply read, "The Lambda Student Alliance will meet," and gave a telephone number for further information.
A few students who knew that "Lambda" is synonymous with "Gay" responded. However, many Blacks don't know that the Lambda is the international symbol for Gay pride.
One student remarked, "When I saw posters announcing the Lambdas, I thought it was another fraternity like the Q's or the Alphas."
"It was a struggle for us to come out as Gay," said member Kathy Woods. "We talked about how far we wanted to go endlessly at every meeting. Finally we decided to take the plunge."
The "plunge" was to place an ad in the university paper, "The Hilltop." The ad read, "The Lambdas are coming. Lambda means Gay." This was to be followed by an announcement stating this was a Lesbian/Gay organization with the time and place of the next meeting which was to be the first held on Howard's campus.
This produced a heated debate within the group. Some members wanted the words Lesbian/Gay dropped, feeling it would bring unnecessary hostility. A vote was taken and the majority decided to run the ad as planned with no changes In wording
"I can understand the fear that many Gay students have at Howard," said Sidney Brinkley, founder and co-chair. "These students are immersed in the university setting. They have to live in the same dorms, eat in the same cafeteria and go to the same classes with a potentially hostile group of students."
And just how hostile can things become? "I can't say for sure," continued Brinkley, "Our last meeting was invaded by a group of Muslim students waving the Koran and talking about how 'unnatural' it was to be Gay and how we were destroying the Black family because we don't make babies.
They expected us to back down and when we didn't they left vowing they would do everything in their power to see that we didn't get established on campus."
But getting established on campus is exactly what the Lambda Student Alliance is in the process of doing.
To be chartered the group must have ten students sign a petition. The petition must be approved by the president of the Howard University Student Association (HUSA).
It is with HUSA president Kali Hill that a problem may arise. Hill is a deeply religious person who feels everyone should be "morally correct."
According to Hill being Gay is not "morally correct." Hill has indicated he will not sign the charter request.
In response to this possible setback LSA member Wanda Seay said, "We didn't expect it to be easy. But we will be chartered by Howard University. We will have to fight for it, but it's a fight we will win."
In the meantime the LSA has several projects planned for the near future. A symposium on Homosexuality will be held during the first week in February and later in the semester there will be a showing of the Gay documentary "Word is Out."
However, the group's most ambitious project is simply a disco; the first Gay disco to be held on Howard's campus.
The members all agree that should be very interesting. Well, ready or not Howard University, the Lambdas are coming, indeed, the Lambdas are here.