Couples cling to one another as sensuous, slow music beats a steady rhythm across the dance floor. Groups of people scattered around the room laugh and talk with one another.
It could be any dance at Iowa State. But it's not. Most of the persons at this dance are homosexuals, and the dance is a gay dance.
Thirty-eight persons attended this dance in Ames' Unitarian Fellowship last month. On a campus where most activities are planned for heterosexuals, the dance is one of the few functions where gay people can meet other homosexuals.
Other ways that gays can meet other gays are at meetings of the Gay People's Liberation Alliance (GPLA) held weekly in Frisbie House, out-of-town gay bars, and less glamorous "cruising spots," usually public restrooms around campus, according to GPLA member Steve Court.
But cruising involves risk, said GPLA member Chuck Williams [not his real name]. "You never know who you're going to pick up. You might make advances to a heterosexual and get beat up. You might pick up an S-M [sado-masochist; one who enjoys violent sex]. Or you might meet a policeman. I fear that."
Iowa law states "Whoever shall have carnal copulation in any opening of the body except sexual parts, with another human being, or shall have carnal copulation with a beast shall be deemed guilty of sodomy."
Although this law concerns oral sex between heterosexuals, it most severely limits homosexual activity. Conviction for violation of the sodomy statute could mean ten years in prison.
Discriminatory laws are not the only problems gays face. Ames has no social meeting place for homosexuals, so many Ames area gays travel to Des Moines' three gay bars to meet new people, GPLA member Dave Wolz said. "The bars are a good place to make friends and to talk."
However, Williams said he was drugged and raped so violently he bled after being picked up by a sado-masochist in a gay bar.
Court, Williams and Wolz are three of about 2,000 Iowa State males who have had a homosexual experience, if Playboy statistics are applied to student enrollment figures.
The March 1974 issue of Playboy states that 20 to 25 per cent of American males have had some homosexual experience during adolescence. Beyond age 15, one in ten men has had a significant homosexual experience, it is reported.
"Relative few," of the people in the Playboy sample were involved in serious, long-term adult homosexual activities, however.
Wolz and Court are gay males who have "come out;" meaning they openly admit their homosexuality. Williams has told only a few persons he is gay. I know Williams, but discovered his homosexuality only by attending a GPLA meeting to get information for this story.
Since I do know Williams, I interviewed him in his dormitory room. There, straining to be heard over the loud music that he had put on a tape player to cover our discussion, Williams spoke of "coming out."
"It's an ongoing process," he said. "You do it in degrees. I first told my parents while I was in high school. But I first told them I was bisexual because it was easier than admitting I was completely gay. It was also necessary for my own sanity."
"I still fear telling new people that I'm gay. Society's pressures against homosexuals are hard to face."
The head resident of Williams' dormitory house is the only person on his floor who knows he is gay, he said. "Some of the rest of the guys speculate behind my back."
In an almost clinical manner, Williams said he has told more females than males that he is gay. "This relieves many women because they realize that they don't have to perform sexually with me. They say they care about me as a person, not about my sexuality."
Males threaten Williams, he said. "I have a preoccupation with their sex rather than their whole personality."
A poster of a nude heterosexual couple embracing hangs on Williams' wall as "a front" so other members of his floor will not realize he is gay.
Each of the three men said that their parents told them to hide their homosexuality while they were in college, and to keep it hidden. Court and Williams said their parents told them they were just "going through a phase" that they would outgrow.
Wolz said he tried to comply with his parents' request to hide his homosexuality, but he "couldn't do it. I couldn't conform to my parents' wishes and my own needs at the same time. So I thought of myself and contacted the GPLA (formerly known as the Gay Men's Rap Group)."
"I saw the ad in the Daily and was pretty paranoid," Wolz said. "I thought the ad may have been set up as a trap for innocent gay people. But I had to take the risk because I couldn't live in a closet."
Each of the three men said that an important function of GPLA is being able to share individual problems and feelings with other members of the group. All three have encountered problems because they are gay.
Court said he has a few "close" heterosexual friends in the dorm who accept his sexuality. Others "don't mind unless they are confronted with the fact I'm gay. If I say, 'Hey, there goes a good looking guy,' they get upset." Graffiti in the restroom criticizes Court, and one person has yelled "Hey faggot" at him, he said. "But persons in my house generally try not to offend me when they talk about homosexuals."
Unlike Wolz and Williams, Court said he has had no problems living with a heterosexual roommate. "I told my roommate I was gay during the first part of my freshman year," Court said. "He later said he didn't shock his shock because he was a good actor. But we're rooming together again this year because he accepts my gayness. We get along as roommates. We understand each other."
Wolz's heterosexual roommate during fall quarter moved out because Wolz was gay. During winter quarter, Wolz's new heterosexual roommate "accepted me," he said.
Some men on Wolz's dormitory floor mock him by saying, "Hi, sweetie," in a high, put-on voice, he said. "But I've found a way to stop that. I just say, 'Hi sweetie' back. They shut up pretty quick."
Williams said he "lives in fear," because he doesn't want the residents of this floor to know he is gay. "One night in the house den, the guys started saying really hostile things about gays. It's hard to take."
Once during his freshman year, Williams propositioned his roommate. " I panicked after I did it and made up some story about losing my fiancée in a car accident so my roommate would think I was joking. He believed me."
During his freshman year Williams said he had a reputation as a "hustler." I always had females up in my room, but they were just friends.
I don't feel sexually attracted to women, but I would like to have a sexual experience with a woman. I want a son, but not the wife to go along with the son. I'm still learning what it's like to be gay."
"I view females as people," Wolz said. "But I never have developed a close friendship with a female and right now I don't intend to."
Until these men develop sexual relationships with women, their sexual activities violate the law. Possible imprisonment for sexual preference is a high price to pay for being gay.
"Chuck Williams" was, I believe, a Mormon guy named Larry who went with GPLA member Steve Court for a time. He played nicely into some classroom fears when I went on a speaking engagement with him once. He still wanted to be a Mormon, and said his "gayness was a sin," but he was working on "other sins right now." Yes, we had a lot of interesting characters pass through the organization during the first years, and reading this article above makes me smile. We were beyond liberal in giving voice to any who joined us. But by the spring of 1974 the group was evolving again. I was really tired of answering the same questions about myself and was drawing back somewhat, plus a lot of nasty stuff was going on in my personal life. By the end of the following school year I believe I'd stopped some of my political activity and began to concentrate on living my life and "getting my head together." I was no longer an ISU janitor so I was more removed from the day to day activities on campus.