Though the Greek community is making efforts to bolster the feeling of acceptance toward homosexuality, many feel it still has a long way to go.
“I would say that it’s not fine, but that it’s getting better,” said a gay member of the Greek community who wished to remain anonymous. “Luckily it’s changing in L.A., and specifically at USC, but for a while, since the Greek system is so built on heterosexual stereotypes, it has created a certain mentality in the Greek community that makes it challenging.”
USC graduate Eric Lavis of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity said there is a “down-low culture” surrounding homosexuality in the Greek community.
“I don’t think that [it’s] generally going to be accepted. I don’t think that people want to hear about it, and I don’t think people like to talk about it.”
These heterosexual norms of the Greek community can create a clouded perception that there are no people identifying as gay in the Greek system. This perception, however, is false.
“The bad thing is that there gets to be this idea that it’s a split spectrum — gays and Greeks. But there are many gay people and allies in the Greek community,” said Steven Strozza, a member of Delta Omicron Zeta.
Just like there is not just one type of Greek experience, there is not one type of LGBTQ experience within the Greek community. Some students go into recruitment knowing their sexual identity and others discover it later.
Aaron Lieberman, a senior in the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and one of two student coordinators for Greek Chat, a safe space to discuss your sexuality within the Greek community, was closeted during his recruitment process and did not come out until his sophomore year.
“I actually kind of like that it happened that way, I didn’t plan it that way,” Lieberman said. “I had gained a lot of respect from my fraternity brothers and pledges as pledge master, and so when I came out [later on] I already had their respect, love and admiration. So if your opinion is going to change and the only thing that had changed is me telling you about my sexuality, there is a red flag there.”
Lieberman had a positive and supportive experience coming out within his fraternity to the extent that he even dated another member of the fraternity. He said that he believes this was the only intrahouse openly gay couple in the Greek system at USC at the time.
“Ultimately, everybody was supportive, and it’s been a great experience,” Lieberman said. “I think once time passed, and they just realized, this is them, when they are at a party they are going to dance together and hold hands sometimes. I think that my boyfriend and I kept it appropriate for the occasion.”
Lieberman helped set the tone for this acceptance to grow within his fraternity.
“Nobody danced with other guys on the dancefloor at fraternity parties pre-me, but now that we have half a dozen members in our fraternity who are out, people don’t really pay attention to it. Whether it’s positive or negative, you get attention, and one day I hope that attention doesn’t come anymore.”
In Lieberman’s experience, the degree of acceptance from his fraternity is not reflected in the attitudes of other houses.
“It’s a problem when we go to sorority philanthropies since we are known as one of the more accepting houses,” Lieberman said. “We will get the ‘f-word’ thrown at us from other fraternities as an intimidation factor.”
Christina Vlahos shared her experience as a lesbian-identifying female in Alpha Chi Omega and the other student coordinator of Greek Chat.
“I went in completely closeted because I wanted to get that experience,” Vlahos said. “I wanted people to judge me based on me and not by my sexuality.”
Though she proudly described her experience, she admitted to being nervous during the process.
“The Greek system is so heteronormative and it’s just so traditional with the mixers and the registers, and there is this huge hook-up culture that is predominantly heterosexual,” Vlahos said. “On the outside surface, it doesn’t really seem like a gay-friendly environment just because it’s so specifically tailored to these heterosexual vibes.”
After dropping from the recruitment process and later receiving a snap bid from Alpha Chi Omega, Vlahos had a very positive experience.
“I can’t necessarily speak for the Greek system as a whole because I don’t know what it would be like in other chapters to come out, I just know specifically in my chapter it’s been awesome,” Vlahos said.
Though Vlahos feels comfortable in the sisterhood she has found, she does see the reality of the heteronormative traditions on which the entire community is founded.
“There are other gays in the Greek system, I am not this random wildflower, so it’s just, ‘How do we accommodate?’”
The heteronormative activities and traditions of Greek life are often the cause of the LGBTQ community’s perceptions, which can make it seem less desirable to gay, lesbian or bisexual students.
“I think a lot of my friends in the LGBT community who are not in Greek life have a very negative view,” Lieberman said. “It is just heteronormative. There’s no way to get around that there are a lot of traditions.”
Strozza, however, feels that certain negative run-ins can be amplified or generalized to reflect on the entire community in that way.
“I would say that because the Greek community is a little more traditional and traditional specifically in its gender roles, I think the members of QuASA, whether right or wrong, think that the Greek community is homophobic,” Strozza said. “There are also some individuals who I know who have had particular experiences; for example, girls who were in the Greek community that are lesbian and guys make the comment, ‘Oh, that’s such a waste,’ are types of homophobic comments [that] can be the ones that prevail.”
The actions of specific Greek organizations have contributed to the reputation of the community as a whole.
“I think there might be more indifference Row-wide, but I think that homophobia exists more within specific organizations,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “While there is a gay presence within almost all organizations of the Greek community, it just depends on the organization and whether there is more or less visible homosexuality depending if people feel comfortable coming out within those organizations.”
Though there are governing bodies for all of the Greek organizations, it is usually in the hands of the leadership of the individual chapters to set the tone.
“Honestly, the lack of people willing to be open in ‘top houses’ versus other houses just speaks to the lack of comfort there is. It makes me sad to think they would think it is bad to associate their houses with having gay members.”
Interfraternity presidents were hesitant to comment on the matter.
PHC AND IFC EFFORTS
The Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, along with the LGBT resource center, are making efforts to open channels to acknowledge and foster acceptance of this diversity.
Greek Chat is not just for IFC or PHC members. This forum meets once a month for anyone who is either questioning his or her sexuality or is “out” and wants to discuss challenges or issues they have within the Greek system. Lieberman and Vlahos help smooth any trouble members are having combining these communities and answer questions about events such as formals, invites and recruitment.
“I feel like having [this forum] within the Greek system creates this kind of awareness,” Vlahos said. “People assume that everyone in the Greek system is straight, especially when you are rushing.”
IFC made efforts to address the topic of homosexuality last year under former Diversity Director Ehren Elder.
“[IFC’s diversity] had previously been more focused on sexual assault and ethnic diversity, but I decided to mix it up a little and focus on sexuality because I thought it was really relevant,” Elder said. “While it didn’t seem like a glaring issue, it is really the modern civil rights issue of our era and it seemed like Fraternity Row really should start trying to get ahead of the issue, if not behind it.”
During his term, Elder coordinated ally trainings for both IFC and PHC members and organized an LGBTQ rush panel.
Current IFC Diversity Director Sebastian Moya has continued Elder’s legacy on IFC by challenging the Greek community to work on increased openness and acceptance.
“We try to get groups of accepting people together to try to combat the stereotypes [that Greeks aren’t accepting],” Moya said. “It’s true, when you talk to people one on one they can say they are supportive of these issues but it’s the mob mentality that ends up prevailing.”
Moya hosted his first Greek-wide event this past Friday in honor of National Day of Silence, a day when students around the world take action in the form of silence as a way of remembering the individuals who have silenced their lives as a result of LGBTQ bullying and harassment.
“Hopefully, when I get groups of people together in the same room, a positive type of mob mentality happens and they leave saying, ‘Why shouldn’t I think that all the time?’” Moya said.
Moya has created pins that say “I am a Greek Ally” for students in the Greek community to wear on their backpacks.
“The hope is that they will see that button on the backpack and say, ‘I remember that day and I remember this cause and I remember that this is something I believe in,’” Moya said. “It’s creating things like that, little moments that people can carry with them that are positive.”
Homosexuality is also a different experience for everyone, not only between chapters but between sororities and fraternities as well.
“In my Greek Chat experience, it does weirdly seem like it is almost harder for the sororities, for the lesbians in sororities, than it is in the gay males in fraternities,” Lieberman said. “It’s funny because I always thought it would be the opposite.”
Vlahos also spoke to the fact that it was more common to hear about guys coming out within the community than girls.
“The first Greek Chat I went to, it was all guys and me,” Vlahos recalled. “I was hoping, ‘Maybe I will get to meet some other girls,’ but honestly there was just none. I didn’t hear of a single queer- identified girl until my second year into the Greek system.”
BROTHERHOOD AND SISTERHOOD
Because of the Greek community’s heteronormative social structure, often it’s the brotherhood and sisterhood aspect of the Greek community that is most appealing.
The brotherhood and sisterhood fosters opportunities to create a niche community for oneself.
“You have to make your own mini-community and the Greek system is just one way to do that and, also, what I love about the Greek system, it is an awesome place for leadership development,” Lieberman said. “So I think between the brotherhood and sisterhood aspect and leadership development, the Greek system is very influential.”
If the community were to address heterosexual norms, it could create an opportunity for greater acceptance of homosexuality as well as increased Panhellenic spirit, said Vlahos.
“Other schools, they do big philanthropies and invite sororities and fraternities,” Vlahos said. “At USC, we don’t even think to do that because there’s a competitiveness … and a lot of it is that we are doing these philanthropies because it’s a good way to meet boys.”
Though the current climate of the Greek community is seeing change toward acceptance, it has not reached the point of celebration.
“I would love that in the next few years, it’s not a topic anymore … My hope is that there is acceptance … whether it is your sexuality, your religion or your race or any disability that you are a member of the Greek community,” Lieberman said. “I want more than just acceptance of diversity but celebration of diversity.”