Alright, brace yourselves.
Are you sitting down?
I am coming out of the closet. No, not the gay closet, the Greek closet. And no, not that place in Europe, but rather, that place adjacent to nearly every college campus filled with raucous parties and lavaliere-wearing women.
That’s right, I stood up at every chapter meeting and performed the ritual, coordinated initiation, sent out thank-you notes and attended every sorority event possible, complete with the appropriate customized T-shirt.
While I am currently an alumna of my chapter, and I was straight when I was a member of the chapter. It wasn’t until I moved back home to Cincinnati that I came out of the rainbow closet.
When I was a member, I lived in the house, devoted my time to helping with recruitment or whatever else needed to be done and wore my letters (only while looking my best, of course). See, sorority isn’t like any other club, it is all encompassing, and when people see you, they don’t see you, they see letters.
I was reading a feature on 365Gay, and it portrays a very optimistic experience for gays and Greeks. This could be true – I do think Greek life is much more accepting of queers than it once was – but I don’t think all that much has changed.
There are a few LGBT Greek organizations, but most of them are local and may or may not be recognized by officials in Greek life. And if they aren’t recognized, then they don’t participate in the all-Greek activities and receive little exposure.
In the article the interviewees say they have had positive experiences with being gay and Greek, but this was only a handful of people. I suspect there are many more gay Greeks who haven’t had such positive experiences.
“A study conducted by Douglas Case in 1996 on the experiences of LGBT members of fraternities and sororities found that, ‘the heterocentric nature of Greek social activities, homophobic attitudes within organizations and the perceived need to hide their sexual orientation detracted from the Greek experience for many LGBT students,'” the article stated.
I feel like that is the most accurate statement. Overall, being labeled different for any reason is the kiss of death in Greek life. And due to the reapeated heterosexual pairings between sorority and fraternity mixers and fraternity and sorority pairings for Greek and homecoming weeks, it is clear that there is no room for any other sexuality than a heterosexual one.
That is not to say that girls don’t play with each other. It is not uncommon for sorority women to drunkenly make out with one another, and if this occurs at a frat party, the makeout session is usually accompanied by male cheers. But this usually occurs under the guise of drunkenness and is fodder for gossip at lunch at the sorority house the next day.
And while there are some chapters who see themselves as unique and celebrate the individuality of their members, that is usually just code for, “We are the weird chapter on campus who takes everyone.” (I know it’s not very sorority-woman like for me to say it publicly, but it is the truth.) The large houses make their largest cuts of potential new members based on the first round of recruitment – usually a 15-minute meeting with one chapter member to a group of two to five potential new members. Clearly a sorority member cannot get to really know a potential new member under those circumstances, so it is clear that these crucial first-round judgments are based on looks. And if you don’t fit the ideal look, you are cut from the large houses and left for the smaller houses. This means, if you look different at all – including queer – you are rejected from the large houses. I have seen it happen time and time again.
Overall, I would say Greek life is one of the least accepting groups of organizations. This doesn’t mean that some queer individuals don’t have a positive experience being gay and Greek, but in my experience, queers – and most people who are different – have no place in Greek life.
But, “According to the North-American Interfraternity Council, 9 million people in the U.S. and Canada are current or alumni members of the Greek system. Over the course of American history, 48 percent of U.S. presidents, 42 percent of U.S. senators, 30 percent of congressional representatives and 40 percent of U.S. Supreme Court justices have been Greek. Thirty percent of Fortune 500 executives are Greek. So, even if the worst stereotypes of Greek life are to be believed, it seems that the beer bong enthusiasts of today are the decision-makers of tomorrow,” stated the 365Gay article.
Because the Greeks apparently are the decision-makers of the future, they may be a key to predicting the tides of change for gay rights. The aforementioned article indicated that queers are having more positive experiences in Greek life now (even though I think that is probably not true for most queers). But if that is really the case, our time may be coming, or at least that is what the article suggests.