LGBTQ in the greek systemBy Hannah Widener | 04/20/2016 5:52pm
Some members of the greek system feel a need to lead a double life to protect their sexual orientation. CW | Layton Dudley
Justin Thompson, a recent graduate, pledged Alpha Delta Phi his sophomore year of college for the same reason most men do. He wanted to make friends, party and network to help with his career later in life. After making it through his first year of college, he soon began to realize that he could no longer suppress a side of himself that he had pushed to the back of his mind for his entire life.
“It was rough,” Thompson said. “Freshman year, it wasn’t so bad because I wasn’t trying to find any guys I was just trying to do my thing and get through school and have fun. Sophomore year when I realized that this was a thing, and it was not going to go away, I started going to church. I was dating guys, and I was feeling horrible about it and going through all that with church. It’s crazy to me that I went so long without coming out. Most of my friends have been out since high school or middle school and I didn’t come out till I was 21 years old.”
Thompson was living a double life, and he could not continue to lie to his fraternity brothers, his friends and his family, he said. It was time to speak out about his sexuality. After Thompson told his close friends in his fraternity and word got around, he said there was only one other thing that he had to worry about: their reputation.
“There [were] definitely people in the fraternity who were not necessarily turned off by it, but definitely concerned by it because we were new and trying to build our reputation, and we didn’t want to be known as the ‘gay fraternity,’ ” Thompson said. “I think with the bigger older fraternities people feel the need to satisfy the views that they’ve had for so long. These people feel like they have this reputation to uphold where smaller newer fraternities don’t feel like they have to do that because we haven’t been around for hundreds of years.”
For Tyler Platt, a senior majoring in political science and biology, despite being open about his sexual orientation with his fraternity Alpha Kappa Lambda, he said he still worries that being open could hurt his chapter’s reputation within the greek community. Platt did not disclose his sexual orientation for the first few years while he was in his fraternity.
Within the past year, Platt brought his boyfriend to many social events, and while it was something rather new for AKL, Platt said they accepted him without reservation.
“In the beginning I never addressed who he was, but people knew where I was coming from,” Platt said. “I’m sure it was assumed that he was my boyfriend, but we didn’t talk about it. Once they asked if I was dating him and wanted to know more about it, then it was just this awesome thing that happened. I hate that it took until my senior year for that to happen.”
Today, Platt said, he has a wonderful relationship with his fraternity built upon understanding and trust and he is extremely proud to be a member of AKL.
If there are any students who feel as though they are being discriminated against based upon their sexual orientation within the greek community, a UA spokesperson said they can contact the Office of Student Affairs or the Office of Student conduct. Kathleen Gillan, director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs said there is training available for all house officials if a student should need to speak with them.
Gillan said more than 100 greek student leaders, including council officers and new chapter presidents, receive annual training. This training, she said, includes diversity and inclusion. Trainings in 2016 were provided by UA Crossroads and Student Involvement.
The Greek Programing Board, she said, provides educational workshops for both greek and non-greek students. Kirk Walter, assistant director of student involvement, will host a Diversity and Inclusion Training.
"Greek Ambassadors also receive training on a variety of topics, including diversity and inclusion," Gillan said. "Additionally, Safe Zone training opportunities are available and optional for all house directors, and greek organizations are made aware annually of Safe Zone training opportunities.”
As a member of Spectrum, an LGTBQ+ group on campus that creates a safe space for students to express themselves, Brittany Groves said she had no problems when it came to telling her sorority Zeta Phi Beta about her sexual orientation. Groves, a senior majoring in German and history, identifies as bisexual or pansexual. Groves told her sorority during her recruitment about her girlfriend when she mentioned that she was taking her out for dinner that night.
Once she told them she was bisexual, they accepted her right away, Groves said. Groves said while her experience has been positive she knows that that is not always the case for members of the greek community.
“If you want to come out and you feel safe enough to do it, then you should,” Groves said. “If your sorority or fraternity doesn’t like it, then maybe those aren’t the kind of people you want to hang around in the first place. If they’re going to bring that kind of negativity towards you, than is that really the kind of person you want to be a brother or sister to you in the first place?”
One alumnus who wished to remain anonymous in order to protect his business reputation never came out to his fraternity during his four years spent at the University. Despite the pain it caused him, he said he cannot rewrite the past.
“I learned a lot through my experience,” he said. “I learned about what I don’t want in life and what I value. I would go back and learn that lesson the hard way. I would go back and make all the friends that I’ll probably never speak to again. I’d go back and choose not to spend my time trying to meet someone that I might actually be attracted to. Would it be easier to not have pledged and maybe have had an easier time? Maybe, but I’ll never be able to answer that question.”
A UA spokesperson said the University remains focused on providing a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all of our campus community. The University will not tolerate discrimination and will investigate and take necessary action whenever it’s warranted.
One member of a sorority, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of being kicked out of her house and her sorority, said that despite most of her sorority sisters and friends knowing that she is gay, she is still afraid of what the alumni would do if they were to find out.
“I think for most people this is seen as something that is negative," she said. "You don’t want to do anything that would impact your reputation negatively because you’re competing with other sororities."
According to the Williams Institute school of law at UCLA, there were more than 8 million adults who identified as LGBTQ+ in the United States in 2011.
After Thompson ran for SGA president and lost during his junior year, he said that by leading through example he received many messages from other members of fraternities who now felt comfortable enough to come out.
“It’s become a little bit better since I left," Thompson said. "As a gay guy in Tuscaloosa, you knew at least one person that was gay and in a fraternity and you knew that there was more than that. The more people are able to come out and talk about it the more it will become less taboo.”