October 2, 2011

Being Gay and Being Greek

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When I arrived at Cornell four years ago there were a lot of things I thought about the Greek system, but most notably I didn’t think it was for me. One of the strongest misconceptions I had of the Greek system was that it was homophobic, and was generally lacking in openly gay members.  After joining a fraternity a year ago, I quickly found out that my misconception was something that kept me from joining one of the most enjoyable groups of gentlemen on campus for three years. Soon after joining the Greek system, I discovered that despite what I thought, there were openly gay members in a variety of chapters. At an IFC meeting last spring, more than 70 percent of the chapter representatives said they had a gay or bisexual brother. This surprised me, and I realized that my freshman-year impressions were untrue and falsely constructed from the social portrayal of the Greek system as a completely heteronormative part of society. I still wondered, why does it seem like there are so few gays in the Greek system? For the extent of the Cornell community, this unofficial IFC poll is a low number.  Based on the most recent University-wide survey, about seven percent of our campus self-identifies as something other than heterosexual (about 1,000 students). The Greek system accounts for almost a third of Cornell’s students, and I can definitely say there aren’t 300 gays in the Greek system. When thinking about what the Greek system provides, especially the active social atmosphere, there should be far more gays — not just a handful as part of the composition of a chapter.     I imagine that many gay students here, just like me, have the same thoughts about the Greek system as I did when coming to Cornell.  They either go to rush just for the fun but then drop out, or forgo the rush process altogether, just as I did my freshman year. What I have also noticed, for those in the Greek system already, there are many who are not openly gay, or “out.” I’ve consulted others on this issue, including the popular sex columnist Dan Savage, who claims that many of those not out might just be avoiding coming out until after college.This was not the response I was hoping for, as I couldn’t think of a better group of people to be open with. That’s partially what brotherhood and sisterhood is all about. It’s a sad thought to think that the Greek system’s perceived norms are preventing a group of people from making the most of their college experiences. While the Greek system is moving in the right direction, there are challenges that gays may still face. An article last year in The Sun described a variety of instances of gays feeling pressure when dancing with someone of the same sex at an open party. Among other issues, the derogatory use of “gay” and “fag” are far from obsolete in Greek chapters. Another subject I’ve even dealt with is the questions of how to handle brothers dating each other in the same chapter.While issues still remain, things are moving forward, and quickly. At the Greek-LGBTQ Info Session held in the beginning of September, one alumnus said he found that the experiences being described by the panel of gay and Greek leaders were far beyond anything he saw or even imagined less than ten years ago. Many panelists had brought a member of the same sex to a formal; there were stories of positive experiences coming out to their chapter; and many were actively changing the use of the words “gay” and “fag” among their brothers. This is exactly the kind of “education” that will bring change to our community. This isn’t something that can be changed by policy, but a change that will be brought up from one or two — and hopefully in the near future, the many — members in chapters. The Greeks system should be a place that inspires confidence and builds leaders. For many of us, that is exactly what it has helped us to do. Being gay shouldn’t be a question when considering rush, and I hope that after reading this and viewing the many positive examples from the Greek-LGBTQ Info Session, that every LGBTQ freshman gives rush a shot. Whether gay or straight, there is a chapter for everyone. As a whole, we in the Greek system must get rid of this perception as a group of bigots, because we aren’t, and continue to work towards being a more accepting community. In order to change that mindset, we must be open-minded during this year’s rush process and beyond. In a year where many question the possible success of recruitment, sexual orientation is the last reason that should decide someone’s membership in your chapter.

Nate Treffeisen is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a member of Delta Chi fraternity and the Student Assembly LGBTQ representative at-large. He may be reached at nt222@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Nate Treffeisen