Fraternities. Whether you love them or hate them, you can’t deny the fact they remain one of America’s most popular college pastimes.
The term “gay frat boy” would probably startle most or at the very least cause a universal “huh?”[jwplayer config=”News-video” file=”wuftnews/20121018GayToGreekWebVid.mp4″ html5_file=”http://fms01.jou.ufl.edu/wuftnews/20121018GayToGreekWebVid.mp4″ image=”http://www.wuft.org/videoupdates/files/2012/10/WUFT-Generic-Logo_final-854×480.png”]
The truth is they do exist and they do have a voice, and it continues a battle to be heard.
It’s hard to determine what exact figures for the number of students actively involved in Greek organizations across the country. Why Go Greek estimates there are 400 thousand active members in fraternities and sororities in the U.S.
Factoring in alumni as well as inactive members, the number increases dramatically. In some cases research states the number of fraternity and sorority members, including alumni, is as high as nine million.
A survey conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates that nine million Americans self-identify as LGBT. This figure is equivalent to the population of New Jersey. One must wonder: It’s hard to imagine that with new equal estimates the gay community has gone largely unnoticed with Greek organizations.
Despite a lack of national visibility, University of Florida sophomore Jimmy Dryer is a fraternity pledge and says his fraternity has been incredibly welcoming.
“For me it hasn’t been that much of an issue. I know some people in the fraternity that I’m pledging and it’s kind of just been like, you know, they let me know coming in to it that it was probably not going to be an issue. And I’ve just kind of come to terms with it myself that if it is an issue then it’s someone else’s issue, it’s not my issue,” says Dryer.
Despite his acceptance within the fraternity, Dryer says he still feels brothers may be quick to label him because of his sexuality.
“I feel like people respect me, people like me, and that’s fine. I feel like there is still not necessarily a stigma but kind of a way that people view me as like, well this is one of the gay brothers or this is the gay brother. And that, I don’t have a problem with, but I see it still as a sort of label,” says Dryer.
Associate Professor at the University of Florida and expert on Lesbian and Gay Studies Dr. Kenneth Kidd says he’s seen major improvements in both campus and community climate for gays in the past 14 years.
“If you’re asking have queer people come a long way in the last 24 years in terms of acceptance and visibility, the answer’s definitely yes,” says Kidd. “Although some have pointed out that such mainstreaming has some downsides, mostly, one, emphasis on traditional family values, such as (the right to) marriage and having children, and, two, a de-emphasis of both sexuality and progressive, even radical politics.”
Kidd also states that there is definitely more visibility and a lot less stigma for those coming out, especially among the young.
Specifically within his fraternity, Dryer agrees.
“It really hasn’t been bad at all, like for what it could be, for what it may have been, you know, five or 10 years ago. It’s been pretty great,” he says.
University of Florida junior Tyler Alderman is also a member of a UF fraternity and says, if anything, he sees a greater negative reaction among the gay community than among the members of his fraternity.
“I get a lot of crap from a lot of my friends who aren’t in fraternities and who are openly gay. They have this stigma against being gay, being in a fraternity. They feel it’s just awful for the community, I guess,” says Alderman.
He says the hardest part of being gay in the Greek community was coming out.
“I didn’t know how to bring it up. That’s probably one of the hardest things in the world is to address it to people. I never knew how to work it into conversations. So I guess the biggest hill would be to just say it,” says Alderman.
Recognizing the need for change and acceptance within the community, many fraternities across the county have made an oath on a local and national level to openly accept members who identify as homosexual.