Most people don’t think of the typical “frat boy” or “sorority girl” as being gay or lesbian. This stereotype of the Greek system has proven to be untrue at Cornell where there is a gay community involved in Greek life.
However, according to Kevin Nagel ’06, a member of Kappa Delta Rho, there is a perception in the majority of the gay community that there is a “homophobic stereotype.” On the other hand, he added, “there are definitely gay guys that go to frat parties.”
In 1995, concern over the issue of homophobia in the Greek system culminated in the founding of Greeks United, an organization which acts as a social and support network for gays in the Greek community. According to Erica Kagan ’05, a GU co-facilitator, participation in the group has varied since its founding. Last year it was once again started anew.
The group began attending Panhellenic Association meetings and advertised during rush week, in addition to sending e-mails to the Greek community offering to share their services. Nagel, also an officer of GU, commented that the group and its purpose has not received as much publicity as he would like.
“We are still small,” Nagel said.
GU holds weekly meetings in undisclosed locations at undisclosed times, in order to give its members privacy.
“We have people completely in the closet and people who are completely out,” Nagel said. At a typical meetng, members discuss issues both in the general community and issues related to their own personal situations.
“Its about trying to get people to open up,” Nagel said.
The most common issue faced by gay Greeks is the issue of coming out to the house, said Nagel.
According to Leah Orta Nieves ’05, also a member of GU, coming out can be an incredibly difficult thing. “[People are] afraid of rejection or awkwardness,” Orta Nieves said. She added that many times
other people in the house don’t care.
“Its been very positive just to know that I’m not the only queer in the Greek system,” Orta Nieves said, regarding the support she has received from GU.
Nagel speculated that it might be easier to come out in a smaller house where all of the members know each other and reactions could possibly be anticipated. In a larger house, that might not be the case.
Orta Nieves, Kagan and Nagel all agreed that, in the Greek system, there are many more people in the closet than out. Orta Nieves speculated that many closeted people have a “fear of exposure,” even in a place like GU, although she said that every effort is made to accommodate those fears.
“Certain people have found it helpful to note that people have been out in houses,” Kagan said.
GU acts not only as a social and support network for the gay Greek community, but also to promote awareness of gay issues to the Greek community as a whole. This is accomplished partly through their partner organization Greeks United Straight Allies, which is the “public face” of GU. GUSA holds meetings and runs workshops focusing on gay issues in the Greek community
At the A.D. White Leadership Conference, GUSA ran a workshop called “Queer Eye for the Straight Ally.” Students role-played possible scenarios which could occur if a hypothetical brother or sister came out. According to Orta Nieves, the event did not get as large a crowd as had been expected.
However, when they host the event again at the Delta Series conference, they anticipate a larger crowd.
The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs also supports the gay Greek community in several ways. According to Leo Pedraza, assistant dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs, the office co-advises GU and GUSA in addition to providing “ZAP!” panels where participants can discuss issues pertaining to the gay community. The office also incorporates the GU and GUSA in the A.D. White Leadership Conference and the Delta Series.
“Little things can go a long way,” said Pedraza, regarding what Greek leaders can do to promote acceptance. According to Pedraza, these include such behaviors as correcting brothers and sisters who use inappropriate language, displaying a “safe place” card to show their support and taking stands when faced with members discriminating against others because of their sexual orientation.
Pedraza also highlighted a new program which the office is looking into bringing to Cornell. Entitled “Journey to a Hate-Free Millennium,” the program looks at cases of hate such as the Matthew Shepard murder to show the “horrifying reality of hate in general.”
Despite this action, according to Orta Nieves, there has been a lack of response from Greek leadership to some of these issues.
“Some presidents don’t feel they are in the position to get into people’s personal lives,” she said.
Orta Nieves said that, despite the disinterest, she has never encountered a situation where someone was having real problems after coming out, although she added that “I definitely think it’s happened.”
If there is a problem, Orta Nieves suggests “finding at least one person that can back you up.”
Nagel had a positive experience in his fraternity, but he had heard of cases where pledges have been turned down because of their sexual orientation.
“It really just depends on the guys and the make-up of the house,” Nagel said. He added that his fraternity’s constitution contains a clause that prohibits discrimination based upon sexual organization.
“I think its not an issue at all,” said Mark Elliot ’07, a straight student going through the pledging process at Acacia. “I can’t see why there would be anything that could deter a homosexual from joining a fraternity.”
Archived article by Ted Van Loan