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Gay and Greek: LGBTQ+ students make homes in fraternities and sororities

Delta Chi LGBTQ Fraternity
Sophomore Ryker Smith, chemistry major, in front of the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Smith is one of the founding fathers of the Delta Chi fraternity at UNC and a member of the LGBTQ community. Smith says that in his experiences with Greek life he has not experienced homophobia and that "he loves all of his brothers and all of his brothers love him."

Sarah always pictured herself in Greek life. But this year, after rushing, the UNC sophomore was still keeping one element of her identity from her Panhellenic sorority Pi Beta Phi: she’s bisexual.

Sarah, who asked to be identified by a different name to avoid being outed to her parents, did not often see the LGBTQ+ community associated with college Greek life. During rush, she knew Pi Beta Phi had an openly out member. 

In 2016, the sorority changed their national bylaws to accept transgender women in an effort of inclusivity. 

Still, Sarah feared her sorority sisters would look at her differently if she came out and told them she had a girlfriend.

Around a month ago, after rushing and finding a home within Pi Beta Phi and keeping this part of her identity private, Sarah decided to tell her sisters. A wave of acceptance came along with the revelation that challenged her previous ideas about Greek life and her sexuality.

“I was like, ‘Hey guys, I just want to let you know I’ve been dating this girl for a really long time, and I want to bring her to semi and formal and stuff’ and they were all like, ‘Live your best truth, we support you,’” Sarah said.

Sarah joins a larger group of LGBTQ+ people who have broken stereotypes and made homes in social fraternities and sororities on college campuses.

Sophomore Ryker Smith is openly gay and stumbled into Greek life when a friend referred him to become a founding father of the IFC fraternity Delta Chi. Smith said he saw joining Delta Chi as an opportunity for personal growth as he had previously felt uncomfortable around straight men.

“I’ve grown as a person in that I’ve had experiences I never thought I was going to have, and I’m glad that I’ve had them just because it’s allowed me a new perspective on kind of college life but also just like what it means to be a gay man in the U.S. or at college,” Smith said.

Fostering a supportive and inclusive community is part of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life’s core values, said Ion Outterbridge, the director of the office. Outterbridge said there are members of Greek life who have openly come out, and they had no problems from their brothers or sisters.

“We do have these conversations in our monthly president's meeting, and we’ve never experienced an organization or a member of an organization that has complained about lack of support and understanding,” Outterbridge said.

The LGBTQ+ students who have joined Greek life demonstrate this possibility. Greeks are not anti-gay, Sarah said. She said one of the women in her sorority set Sarah up with her girlfriend. But to promote inclusivity, Sarah said the prevalence of openly out fraternity and sorority members must increase.

“There’s maybe one girl per sorority that’s out," Sarah said. "But then there’s more that don’t say anything, because they’re afraid people are going to think of them differently. And if you live in the house, they’re afraid that you’re going to be weird about it when really the truth is everybody’s very cool about it. It’s scary, but being out in Greek life is more helpful because visibility matters.”

While Sarah said the UNC sororities do an excellent job with inclusivity, she said being out in a fraternity is rarer and may be more difficult for men, especially men of color, because of toxic masculinity.

As a founding father of Delta Chi, which Smith said aims to be as “nontraditional” as possible, he said UNC fraternities would not outright reject a potential member because of his sexuality, but because of deeper ideas in society dealing with heteronormativity and gender roles. He said increasing inclusivity in Greek life spaces requires more than a change in the fraternities and sororities themselves.

“It would have to be a deeper kind of shift toward the things you do in Greek life more so than like, 'Hey, we don’t like you because you’re gay kind of thing,' because I don’t think any fraternity outright is going to be like, ‘We didn’t accept him because he was gay,’” Smith said. “It would be ‘We didn’t accept him, not because he’s gay, but because he didn’t click with the brothers’ because there’s just so much difference between straight men and gay men and things you enjoy.”

Both Smith and Sarah said UNC’s Greek life fosters a more LGBTQ+ friendly environment than what they would expect to find at other southern universities.

Still, for Sarah, who remembers watching a YouTube video from an openly gay woman in the Delta Delta Delta sorority going into college, seeing people who look like you doing things you want to do matters. She said LGBTQ+ people who do not see anyone like them in Greek life feel excluded, and visibility is a way to help this.

“If they’re your friends, they should know," Sarah said. "I’m not saying you have to stand on a table and write, ‘I’m gay’ on your forehead. I’m just saying that you should, if they’re close to you, and that’s important to you and they’re important to you, you should tell them.”

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