- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007


April Maxwell, lured by the promise of the black college experience, with its distinct traditions and tight-knit campus life, enrolled at Hampton University in 2001 without even visiting the waterfront campus in Hampton, Va.

A lesbian who is open about her sexual orientation, she arrived eager to join the extended Hampton family.

Instead, she said, “I felt like I was the only gay person on campus — it seemed like nobody was really out.”

Miss Maxwell, 24, channeled her isolation into organizing a support group, but a panel of students and faculty denied it a charter. The panel recently denied a second attempt at chartering Students Promoting Equal Action and Knowledge, or SPEAK, headed by underclassmen after Miss Maxwell graduated.

It’s a tug-of-war that’s emerging at other historically black schools, where students say outdated rules and homophobia block them from forming the homosexual campus voice that is common at other colleges.

At Hampton, where rules govern everything from overnight guests to student dress, officials insist they don’t discriminate against homosexuals. They say they’re simply enforcing the regulations on student groups, and there just isn’t space for another one.

But some students here see more than a conservative approach to the regulations. They and many others at the nation’s more than 100 historically black colleges and universities say that a broader suspicion of homosexuality keeps homosexuals in the shadows at these tradition-heavy schools.

“You’ve got to recognize the history” of historically black colleges and universities, said Larry Curtis, vice president for student affairs at Norfolk State University. “Most of them were founded by religious organizations.”

Church leaders are often cited as setting the tone regarding homosexuality across the black community. Nationwide, black pastors have opposed same-sex “marriage” and criticized comparisons between the struggles for civil rights and homosexual rights. Others have attacked closeted bisexual men for contributing to the rising AIDS rates among black women.

Black college administrators have the right to deny recognition to homosexual groups, argued the Rev. William Owens, a graduate of a black college and head of the Coalition of African-American Pastors in Memphis, Tenn.

“They can say ‘no,’ and I don’t think they have to give a lot of reasons,” said Mr. Owens, who joined other black pastors who are worried that, along with dismal marriage rates, socially accepted homosexuality “is a threat to the black family.”

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