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Allies in the system

By Kate Parkinson-Morgan

Nov. 16, 2011 1:32 a.m.

The Greek system and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities can seem incompatible in college.

With single-gender housing and predominantly heterosexual traditions such as date parties and raids, the Greek system could be perceived as a space that excludes the LGBT community.

But students with a foot in both communities say such stereotypes are unfair. Greek life is more open to the LGBT community than people give it credit for, some students say, and the interests of LGBT people do not clash with Greek interests nearly as much as one would think.

With efforts to increase acceptance in both communities, students ““ both gay and straight ““ are working to challenge perceptions.

***

Entering college, Nick Rojas said he didn’t think very highly of the Greek system.

“Popular culture gave me this impression that frat guys were all a bunch of jerks without any real drive, just drinking, partying and disrespecting women,” said the third-year geography/environmental studies student.

He was still figuring out his sexuality at the time, and he said the Greek system didn’t seem like the best place to go through that process.

“I wanted to find a group of people that would still think of me as the same Nick, even if I told them I like guys,” Rojas said.

Once he met people in the system, he said he realized most fraternity guys were down-to-earth. For many, the bonds of brotherhood overcame most differences, he said.

Now a member of Pi Kappa Phi, Rojas said coming out to friends in the Greek system turned out to be easier than coming out to friends in other communities.

Kendall Chase, a fourth-year Design | Media Arts student, also did not consider Greek life to be her “scene,” but she rushed Delta Gamma her first year after befriending a fourth-year in the sorority. During the rush process, she never mentioned her sexuality, although she later found out she was known as “the (bisexual) girl” of her pledge class because of her behavior during that time, she said.

It took her until her second year to come out as a lesbian because she was still figuring out her sexuality, she said. When she came out in fall of her second year, her sorority sisters were accepting, if not supportive, of her sexuality, Chase said.

Her sorority sister and current roommate Stephanie Lee said she used to be indifferent to gay rights issues. Since knowing Chase, she’s more willing to go to the polls and mobilize voters on issues such as gay marriage, said the fourth-year communication studies student.

Matt Gilbert, a fifth-year history student, came out to his fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, after confronting what he considered to be an insensitive comment from his fellow fraternity brother, Evan Laveman.

“After that, I definitely realized there was a fine line between humor and homophobia,” said Laveman, a third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student.

Both say the experience strengthened their brotherhood ““ the two are now close friends.

Cyrus Sinai said he is the first gay man a lot of his fraternity brothers have ever befriended.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard,” said the first-year international development studies student. “There’s times when I’d rather not be the guinea pig.”

Sinai said he has had to train himself not to hold back in conversations with his brothers about relationships. When he tells them about his experiences with other men, often other guys just don’t know how to react, he said.

“I’ll just say “˜Hey, it’s no different than you talking about some chick,'” Sinai said.

***

Those within the system say the culture is slowly becoming more gay-friendly. Members have found ways to work around embedded, traditionally heterosexual events like date parties and raids.

Gilbert pointed out that chapter emails about inviting dates to parties have become more inclusive, adding addenda like “invite your girlfriend … or boyfriend, in those special circumstances.”

Chase brought her girlfriend to a date party her second year. No derogatory comments were made, at least to her knowledge, she said.

A few weeks ago, Rojas brought a guy to a date party. He said his brothers complimented him on his courage.

“It was so refreshing to just take who I wanted to take, to have fun without worrying about what people around me would think,” Rojas said.

Yet, homophobia is still prevalent in some cases.

Taylor Bazley, a second-year business economics student and openly gay member of Theta Xi, said he knows many people in other fraternities who have told him they are afraid of coming out.

“I ask them all the time why they’re in it if they even can’t be themselves, and they never really give a good answer,” Bazley said.

Sinai said he still hears members of certain fraternities use homophobic slurs like “that’s so gay” more often than others.

LBGT Resource Center Director Raja Bhattar said that both sides could benefit from more education on these issues.

The center is working to create community-specific “ally trainings” that aim to educate students from communities such as the Greek system about what it means to be an ally to the LGBT community, Bhattar said.

They start with an envisioning exercise where students are asked to think about how it would feel to wake up in a predominantly queer world, Bhattar said.

The resource center recently organized one such training with a Latina sorority. There are plans for many more to take place during Ally Week in spring quarter, he said.

Although Rojas said he’s not opposed to such programs, he believes the most effective way to change people’s perception of the gay community is to make them realize that sexuality does not define identity.

“Simply interacting with people and bonding over common interests can speak (volumes),” Rojas said.

Once people realize that being gay doesn’t define someone, he said, the stereotypes and misconceptions tend to fall by the wayside.

Change starts when gay people in the Greek system take a leap of faith, Gilbert said.

“You can only change the system once you’re out and sharing your story,” he said.

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