The gay and Greek communities at USC need to build a working relationship to address the existing tension and lack of communication, a panel of gay students and alumni concluded Monday at the Gay & Greek Speak Out.
More than 45 students showed up to listen to alumni and current USC fraternity members share what it is like to be gay and in the Greek system. The panel event was run by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Assembly — without the involvement of any Greek councils.
“Right now it’s an unspoken issue, but we need to open these channels of communication, and hopefully the Greek community will be more receptive to LGBT individuals,” said Genevieve Flores, executive director of the GLBTA. “The Greek community needs to make it okay for individuals who are LGBT need to come out.”
Although Flores said the event touched on some of the difficulties facing lesbian and bisexual women in sororities, the main focus of the panel was to discuss the difficulty of being a gay male in the Greek system.
Panelist Stephen Anderson, a USC alumnus and a member of Delta Chi fraternity, said although fraternities were seeing more openly gay members, he had still witnessed homophobic behavior in his time at USC.
“I heard the term ‘faggot’ tossed around all the time,” Anderson said. “It’s a tough environment … I’ve found that there is a lot of misunderstanding on both sides.”
Vincent Vigil, director of the LGBT Resource Center, said both the LGBT and the Greek communities need to focus on facilitating a safe environment where LGBT students feel comfortable, without the fear of homophobic remarks or behavior.
“I don’t know if all people who are Greek understand the difficulties of being gay and Greek … So on both sides, there needs to be learning and understanding about these issues,” Vigil said.
As the politics of gay rights become increasingly visible — President Barack Obama recently brought the issue back to the national conversation by promising to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” laws as well as the Defense of Marriage Act — Flores said GLBTA is moving forward with the overall goals of promoting relevant LBGT issues and increasing acceptance of LGBT students on USC’s campus, through events like the panel.
The discussion included a focus on the panelists’ experiences with attending fraternity and sorority events with same-sex partners, and the discrimination they faced during the rush period.
Steven Philp, a senior majoring in creative writing and international relations who was a panelist at the event, said gay members of the Greek community still felt a stigma because the topic is considered somewhat taboo.
“The biggest challenge in the Greek community is that it has a heterosexist structure,” said Philp, who described himself as an openly gay member of Beta Theta Phi. “I never brought a guy to my own invite, as I was very discouraged, and you definitely feel a little isolated.”
A number of students who attended the event said they were disappointed that Panhellenic and IFC did not contribute to the event and hoped to hear more discussion about being a lesbian or bisexual girl in a sorority in the future.
“It’s not talked about … It’s probably harder to be a lesbian in a sorority than it is to be gay in a fraternity,” said Mary Walsh, a current Panhellenic sorority member. “The Greek system is very big on heteronormativity.”
The event was prompted by an incident last semester, when Isaac Ahn, a senior majoring in English and communication, wrote a letter to the Daily Trojan accusing the Greek system of homophobia and discrimination, according to Flores.
That letter gave GLBTA the idea of holding a panel discussion to explore some of the subtler aspects of Greek life, especially for gay or lesbian members.
Philp said although IFC and the Panhellenic Council seemed open to interacting with the LGBT community, there is a need for equality education for individual chapters.
IFC President Nick Hamada, who attended the event, said IFC encouraged all fraternity members to participate.
“We are an open community, so there is overlap between our communities,” Hamada said. “They are trying to increase dialogue between the communities to bring up these important issues.”
Hamada said IFC plans to work on improving communications about these issues with individual chapters, as well as looking at aspects of the rush process.
The panel discussion, which was followed by a question and answer session with attendees, ended with a sense of general consensus that the communities have to make an effort to work together.
“Our goal is just to educate ourselves, as the different communities don’t know that much about each other,” Flores said. “We wanted to provide a window into both worlds.”