There was a full agenda in one particular room of Howard University, Monday night, Oct. 6. Outside, the quad offered a peaceful, moonlit, academic oasis. Inside a theater of the Blackburn Center, however, peace made way for progress, as the Human Rights Campaign launched ''Hype '08,'' and the Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Organization of Students at Howard (BLAGOSAH) stirred back to life after a sort of hiatus, marking the group's 8th birthday that very evening.
Hype '08 is HRC's new, nationwide program partnering with about a dozen historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to discuss issues such as hate crimes, HIV/AIDS and discrimination in the context of HBCU student issues.
For this launch, four speakers tackled these sorts of topics with about 60 people in attendance. The speakers were Jasper Hendricks, who directs field operations and political programs for the D.C.-based National Black Justice Coalition; Chris Scalise, president of the D.C. chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans; Courtney Snowden, recent president of D.C. Black Pride; Jeff Marootian, vice president for political affairs of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club here in D.C.; Chris Scalise, president of the D.C. chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans; and Courtney Snowden, president of D.C. Black Pride from August 2007 to August 2008.
While much of the evening was spent discussing the presidential election, the room -- both panelists and the audience -- was largely behind Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama, though Scalise was able to spend some time discussing his club's support the GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain. Opinion from the audience also brought Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney into the mix.
The dialogue was most intense when discussing hate crimes, with Joey Gaskins of HRC and the evening's moderator, sharing that some students may be carrying mace and box cutters to protect themselves in the Shaw neighborhood that abuts the campus, scene of a recent attack that left one gay man, Tony R. Hunter, dead.
''Carrying a gun is not the way to go,'' insisted Hendricks. ''Carrying a knife is not the way to go. You're not kids. You're young men and women.''
From her seat in the audience, Roberta McLeod, BLAGOSAH's faculty advisor, reminded students, ''You're still black in America,'' and that carrying weapons may make them more suspect than people of other races.
Clarence Fluker, of the Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs, also in attendance, offered that representatives of the Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit would be available for come to campus and speak to BLAGOSAH members if requested. He added that the office would likely be releasing a report soon to underscore that, statistically, bias crimes against GLBT people in the District are declining, compared to this time last year.
Along with Fluker, other notable attendees included Donna Payne, HRC's associate director of diversity; Phil Attey of Obama Pride Metro-DC; and Falls Church City Councilmember Lawrence Webb, the first openly gay, African American elected to office in Virginia.
Sterling Washington, an original founder of BLAGOSAH closed out the evening, along with the group's current president, Amari Ice. Washington challenged the revived BLAGOSAH to win to the student group of the year award, as the group did when he was leading, for which he received a standing ovation.
For more information about Hype '08, visit www.hrc.org/hype08.
For information about BLAGOSAH, send e-mail inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.