When Gays Go Greek (And Greeks Go Gay)

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

"[Expletive] faggot"? WTF is that? If the language is relevant and necessary to the point of the article, print it all. If it's not, then don't bother with the "faggot" stuff. "The aggressor began yelling epithets at Sjogren before butting him with his head."

-second that -asg

My dates to fraternity events are almost always girls — not that I find them disappointing. If you know Kristina Wiltsee, you know that any man, straight or gay, would be honored to have her as a date. And it’s not that I’m afraid my brothers will disapprove, snicker, or just plain avoid me. When I was still with my boyfriend, I brought him over regularly, even danced with him at parties, despite his hesitation.

So why do I always have a girl on my arm? Frankly, the whole “frat” thing freaks gay guys out, at least the ones I’ve dated. They’ll go with me almost anywhere: the store, the movies, the park … but not to go and hang out with my brothers.

“You’re in a … what?” they ask, as if I’d just said I’d contracted herpes, grown a third nipple, or — worse yet — voted for Bush. They are usually pretty confused, but more so they are nervous. As a gay guy or a lesbian, you learn pretty quickly to avoid people and places that trend homophobic for your own personal well-being, and places that seem to reinforce traditional gender roles are at the top of the list. So there you have it: Quad does not equal queer.

And their heterosexual counterparts tend to agree even more. What possible benefits can Greek life hold for someone who is gay? Personally, it’s a complex thing to explain. To be honest, I feel more comfortable watching the game with a cold beer in my hand than I do kicking back for a Will & Grace marathon. But that’s hardly what Greek life is about. After all, there are plenty of Greek males, of either sexuality, who’d run screaming from the prospect of watching football all day.

In the end, why should it be so strange that the concepts of brotherhood or sisterhood, community service, and personal growth appeal to gays and lesbians just as much as anyone else? Unfortunately, many of the naysayers, gay and straight, have a number of justifications for viewing Greek Life as a “straight-only” world.

Just look at readme, who almost two weeks ago experienced criticism for writing a story about a confused fraternity man (he got Olympic Greeks and fraternal Greeks mixed up) who pledged to make his fraternity (specifically named) less “blatantly homosexual” than it was. The remark, and the mention of specific fraternity letters during Rush, sent the fraternity into a rage. Legal action was threatened, and matters have since calmed down, but it remains disconcerting that readme, typically a lampooner of homophobes, decided to single out a fraternity for what, apparently, is a high amount of homosexuality in its house.

But that’s not so, says sophomore chemistry major Jeffrey Lo, an openly gay pledge at that house. “First of all, my house is incredibly supportive and would defend me without hesitation if I were ever attacked for being gay. And secondly, my house is not "a gay house." There are several houses on this quad labeled that way, simply because it is not an issue there. Rumors fly about really high numbers of gay guys, when that just isn’t true. It’s just an unfair portrayal.”

Lo claims his only negative experience with Greeks occurred at another house’s Rush, and his own fraternity has never offended him or made him feel uncomfortable. “My sexuality was never an issue,” he goes on. “Aside from the fact that some of my brothers joke that I’m secretly just the smartest straight man alive, the topic just doesn’t come up,” he laughs.

So are all the stereotypes about the bigotry of Greeks untrue? Are we Greeks just getting a bad rap altogether? Not necessarily. My experience, like Jeffrey’s, has been completely free of judgment, violence, or anything that would drive me away. Like Jeffrey, both of us know of brothers and sisters who have come out of the closet as a result of the presence of an openly gay brother or sister. But that is not a complete picture of the gay Greek experience.

Take Karl Sjogren, a chemistry and ethics, history, and public policy sophomore, and an openly gay student who had a violent — and entirely surprising — experience on the quad last weekend. Earlier that Friday night, Karl had attended a Rush event for one of the houses on the Quad, and now he was headed to a different house with a few female friends for a party.

“I knew the brother at the door and got in without a problem,” said Karl, who declined to name the fraternity in question — and claims that the only thing that ever made him uncomfortable on the quad was the excessive beer drinking, of which he is not a fan.

“The only appeal really is the dancing, so that’s what I did. I was dancing for just a few minutes with my friends when I got a phone call and went out on the porch to take it.”

When Karl re-entered the house, he was suddenly approached and shoved hard by an unknown male.
“He yelled ‘[expletive] faggot! You started [expletive] with my friend!’ and headbutted me,” recalls Sjogren, who says that after things seemed to temporarily cool down, the aggressor’s friend went behind Sjogren and shoved him into the aggressor, setting him off again.

“He headbutted me again, and the people around us mostly just looked on. Some laughed. A brother yelled, ‘Get the [expletive] out!’ so I did, while [the aggressor] was being held back yelling, ‘[Expletive] faggot!’ over and over.” According to Sjogren, his friends went to find a friend in the house, who apologized and offered the house composite, so that Sjogren might point out the aggressor. Since then, the University has begun investigating the case.

“I feel the same [about Greek life],” says Sjogren. “I don’t expect every house to be like [the one where the violence occurred], nor do I expect every house not to be. The only thing that caught me off guard was the violence.”

While Sjogren’s optimism is admirable, and the motives of the (in all likelihood) drunken individual unknown, it is upsetting to find his experience echoed in others'. What others? An openly gay first-year student at Carnegie Mellon, who prefers to remain unnamed, had an eerily similar experience on the quad on the very same night.

“I had been at a Rush event for one house, then went to another to check out the party,” the first-year explains. “I was talking with a brother there, having a good time. He thought I was hilarious, and things were good. Then he said, ‘Hey, check out those girls over there? Aren’t they pretty hot?’ I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just said, “Well, it’s not really my thing.”

According to the student, the brother than pressed him to admit that he was gay, and once he had, the brother brought over a large man, “much bigger than me, and I’m not small.” The brother then grabbed the first-year student firmly by my arm and said to the larger man, “This kid’s gay. We’re going to throw him out.”

“ ‘Do you want me to get out?’ I asked, and they said that if I did not I would be thrown out. I agreed to leave, and I did so without my friends, who were still inside. They yelled, ‘Good. Get the [expletive] out,’ as I left.”

After such an ordeal, you might have expected the student to go to SoHo, or some other viable support system specifically for GLBT students. But that’s what makes both of these instances so interesting: Both of these students, Sjogren and the first-year, went directly to another fraternity house where they knew they would be safe and supported.

“My interest in Greek Life is having a shared experience despite differences. This hasn’t changed that,” said Sjogren, and the first-year student agreed.

“I still feel like Greek life is a great option, a great way to serve the community. I just have to be more selective about the houses I go to,” he said. “It’s better here at Carnegie Mellon. It’s not perfect, and it can’t be. But a lot of people try hard. Even though there are bad experiences, there’s still so much goodness, and that’s a very encouraging thing.”

Indeed it is. Greeks aren’t a bunch of bigots, but the fact that these two anecdotes basically fell into the lap of this columnist makes me wonder if more of this kind of thing isn’t happening. More and more gays and lesbians are becoming Greek, a sign of improvement within the community, but that change won’t come without controversy — controversy that will force Greeks to re-examine their behavior.