Source: Shane L. Windmeyer’s Brotherhood: Gay Life in College Fraternities
Joining a fraternity can be an amazing experience. The men in your chapter are your brothers. You took a bond or vow with them to support and live up to certain ideals and values. Now you are considering telling them that you are gay. Consider completely the fears, acceptance, or questions that may arise by coming out. This journey will be filled with a range of emotions, facing tough battles and conquering the unknown. Where will your journey lead you? My hope is that you will have an experience that is full of brotherhood, support and love. As a straight female Greek advisor I have had many men come out to me during their fraternity experiences. I have assisted men in coming out to their chapters. I helped one man come out, although he was afraid to, and he had a good experience with very supportive brothers. Another man I helped had a terrible experience and has been discriminated against, made fun of and has been abused emotionally and hazed. These are two examples of how you may experience coming out.
There can be many challenges, rewards and opportunities in this process. The toughest and often easiest people to come out to are your fraternity brothers. Although each fraternity chapter or community is different, there are similar thoughts to be considered and questions to be prepared for. Below are considerations for taking this journey:
Coming Out to a Fraternity Brother
What to consider:
- Create a safe private environment; your room or house is a comfortable place. Being in a safe environment can protect you and make you feel more confident about coming out.Be honest and realize that you may be confronted with a brother who is shocked or may have many questions.
- Assure your brother that you are the same man he has known. You have the same beliefs and ideals that brought you to the fraternity. Tell him that you trust him enough to tell him such a personal truth about yourself.
- Be prepared for both rejection and acceptance.
- Ask for support and guidance if necessary. Ask a brother who is accepting to support you within the chapter.
- Realize your own comfort level of coming out. What are you willing to share? What do you want to keep private?
- Do not assume that a brother will ‘out’ you to the rest of the chapter. Don’t assume he won’t either.
- Communicate your feelings and private thoughts, stating who you are comfortable sharing with at this time.
- Visit www.lambda10.org. There are many sections that can assist you. This site can help you to discover many resources. There is a message board and even a chat room.
Coming Out to Your Fraternity Chapter
What to consider:
- Create an ally in your chapter. This can be your big brother or a pledge brother, someone you trust and who supports you.Provide a safe situation for everyone involved. If you feel a strong confrontation arising, make sure to ask an advisor to be present. They can assist in keeping the chapter meeting from getting out of control.
- Have brothers, which you have privately come out to in the room. This will ensure you are supported by men in the chapter already. It will be comforting to have men around you who support you.
- Understand that there will be a wide range of feelings in the room from support to rejection.
- Connect with brothers, who support you, this will keep up your encouragement and self-realization.
- Be honest and open with brothers who reject you. These brothers may not understand what being gay means; they may have personal beliefs that it is wrong, or just may be unsure of how to react.
- Approach brothers, if you feel it is appropriate or if you are comfortable, who are rejecting you being gay, it can help educate you both on your feelings. You can help a brother understand your lifestyle. Hearing why a brother has a different perspective can help you to understand how to deal with the situation. At times you may need to respectfully disagree and choose to stand strong in your brotherhood with a difference of opinion.
- Be prepared for other gay brothers or brothers who might be gay, to confide in you. This could come as a shock to you. These brothers may be closeted and not out yet. If they come to you they may be looking to share in confidence and trust you to keep their feelings private.
- Be prepared to answer questions about being gay, or what this may mean for your membership in the fraternity.
- Do not be shy about bringing a date to any fraternity functions after you have come out to your chapter if they are supportive. Realize not every chapter member or brother will be supportive.
- Ask if your national organization has any resources for gay members. You can look on the website or ask for contact information to find out if your fraternity has a non-discrimination policy that mentions sexual orientation or educational support programs.
- Seek your national organizations assistance (or local advisors) if there is a negative outcome. They can assist you in confrontation or negative attitudes toward you.
- Encourage your chapter to have a non-discrimination clause including the words sexual orientation in their bylaws if they do not already have one. You can check the list of organizations on www.lambda10.org.
Coming Out to Your Fraternity System
What to consider:
- Look for Safe Zone materials in a campus or Fraternity Advisor’s office. This person can be an ally for you. If you see Safe Zone materials, you know that this person is someone you can talk with openly and they will assist you and support you.Look for administrators or advisors who may be a resource to you.
- Decide whether you would like to come out to the entire campus, or let your news stay within your chapter. Realize that others can spread rumors and your news could get out before you personally choose to share publicly.
- Be prepared for negative comments about you and your fraternity.
- Talk with your chapter president about how the chapter can support you publicly to the Fraternity community. Explain how you would like them to support you.
- Do not be surprised if other gay men or women approach you for comfort or finding support in the community.
- Lean on your brothers for support and assistance. The response from the community is unknown, and it’s better to be prepared.
- Talk to your Fraternity advisor about educating the Greek community on your campus through programs and speakers.
- Help create an ally program so that others will feel more accepted in the community.
Coming Out to Student Leaders on Campus
What to consider:
- Research support groups or student organizations that you can connect with to talk about Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Questioning (GLBT) issues you may be facing.Consider joining a club outside of your fraternity that can provide support. You will find accepting groups in other organizations on your campus.
- Decide whether you want to come out to the campus or just your Fraternity community, or even just a few select people.
- Find your GLBT support services office. This office or staff member can answer questions you may have about being gay in college. Not every campus will have this office or resource.
- If you encounter harassment, find an immediate safe reporting method on your campus. This may be calling the campus police or reporting harassment to the Dean of Students Office. Harassment can be a very serious issue that can lead to physical harm. It is important to be aware if you feel you are in a dangerous situation.
- Seek the counseling center if you need emotional support outside of your fraternity. A counselor is an impartial trained professional who can listen to your concerns.
- Does your campus require student organizations to include a non-discrimination clause in their constitution or bylaws? Consider this when selecting or choosing a group to join. You can find this information out at your Campus Activities Center.
These are the issues that you may face when considering coming out. Be prepared for many questions that range from overwhelmingly positive support to potentially the worst reaction of rejection. The next listing represents some possible questions that you may face related to your choice to come out of the Greek closet. The questions are based on real situations from coming out experiences on college campuses within fraternities.
Be prepared for questions such as:
- Why would you join a fraternity if you are gay? Talk to students who are not in the Fraternity community about your fraternity experience and what drew you to joining a fraternity. What a fantastic opportunity to recruit other students into fraternities or even educate them about the positive aspects of fraternity life such as diversity and brotherhood.What is it like being gay and in a fraternity? Talk about your experience in coming out to your brothers. If you have had a positive experience you will create new alliances with other students that could look to you for support. You may also encourage other gay men to join fraternities. If you have had a negative experience you will most likely talk about how you can find a new support group that is outside of the fraternity. You may also explain that you need to follow your own values and find support outside of the fraternity.
- Where do your loyalties lie? With your fraternity? Or with being gay? Explain how you do not need to choose one or the other. You can be a gay man and a fraternity man at the same time. Those experiences can co-exist and can also be separated as necessary.
- How long have you known this? Be honest and explain that this is not a recent decision for you. Explain that the process of coming out is a tough one.
- Why did you not tell me before you joined? Explain that you were not sure if you would be accepted by the brothers; or that you wanted them to get to know you without knowing you were gay first. Explain you may not have been aware you were ready to come out at that time.
- Does anyone else know you are gay? Explain if your family or other close friends know. This is all part of your coming out process. Let your brothers know how important they are to you; this is why you are coming out to them. If your family does not know yet, explain that you would like to keep your privacy and come out to them on your own time.
- Is that why you joined our fraternity? To look for guys to date? Explain to the brothers what brought you to the fraternity. This will help them to see that you joined because of their values, philanthropy, leadership or strong friendships.
- Are you attracted to any of the brothers? Be honest. Explain the reasons you joined the fraternity. You may be attracted to another brother; you can talk about that privately with close friends and brothers if you choose. You may not be attracted to any of them. Remind brothers about your commitment to the brotherhood. There is a difference of being attracted to someone and acting on those feelings. Brotherhood trust and loyalty always should be the foremost responsibility to one another.
- Are you going to bring dates to formals or other parties? If the group is supportive of you as a brother, of course! What a great way for your brothers to learn more about being gay. Realize that if they are not supportive of you, this may be a touchy area. Consider your individual situation.
- Do other frraternities/sororities know? Brothers may ask this question to find out how to deal with any rumors. They may ask this question to see if you trusted them first or needed outside support. Find out their concern and address it.
- Do you need support? Let them know what they can do for you. Suggest a non-discrimination clause in the chapter bylaws; ask for support of bringing dates to events. Be there emotionally for other men who may come out.
- What is it like being in the ‘gay fraternity’? This is a stereotype that sometimes comes from men coming out in their fraternity. Help to ensure that each man is different and just because you are gay, it does not mean the entire chapter is. This would be support in return to a group of brothers who are supportive of you.
- Are you the only gay guy in our fraternity? Mention that you are probably not. You are just one of the first to feel comfortable coming out. Studies have shown that approximately 10% of people in society are GLBT. This could create the start of a support system on your campus. Depending on the response that others have, they may come out too.
Create Your Personal Coming Out Action Plan
Part of coming out is creating an action plan or as some might refter to as your “gay agenda.” Having a plan or an agenda ensures that you have thought out all possible angles and are best ready to cope with the outcome. Think about the people you will tell first. Look for signs of support or “safe” people. These could be people who are allies or who have made positive comments about gays. Or, they may just be the brother who did not make anti-gay jokes or who ignored such behavior. Your closest friend in the fraternity may be the first person you tell. You may want to consider your fraternity advisor or your chapter advisor too. Next, think about what you will tell them. Will you divulge detailed personal information or will you simply state that you are gay without much explanation? A good suggestion is to practice what you will say. Think about all of the possible questions you may be asked and how you will respond to them. Next, what will you do now that you have come out? Decide how you will react to comments both positive and negative. Search for support groups or a counselor if you require further support. More than likely, there are many resources on campus that are welcoming and understanding of coming out issues. Last, be true to yourself and to your brothers. It is important that you consider that your brothers may not be supportive. Gauge their support level and prepare for both heartfelt support and brotherhood, or in the worst case scenario prepare for harassment and rejection. Keep yourself in safe surroundings at all times. Thinking through each step and forming an action plan can help you prepare to come out with appropriate measures in place ahead of time.
Items to ponder when creating an action plan:
- Create an action plan, who will you tell first? How will you tell them?
- Should I tell my brothers? That depends upon your comfort level with coming out to yourself, your family, your friends and your brothers. Seek a counselor if you are not comfortable but would like to talk to an impartial person.
- Why are people upset with me? Sometimes close friends or brothers are scared, confused or even may feel betrayed. These types of reactions can be confronted with honest conversations and true feelings being discussed.
- If you are being harassed, contact an advisor or the police in a serious situation. Make sure you are keeping yourself safe. Unfortunately people can react very negatively when you come out.
- Consider if your fraternity is right for you. Are the men being supportive? Do they hold up the values of brotherhood? Do they support and accept their campus or even their fraternities’ non-discrimination clause, or have one? Is the fraternity a safe place; a place where you can grow, be comfortable and be yourself? Are the members supportive? If not, maybe walking away from this situation and group of men is the best idea for you.
There is not one way to come out of the “Gay Greek Closet.” Coming out of the closet is a journey that can lead you in different directions. Consider all of your options and choose the best path for you. Some men have positive journeys and some have negative ones. You might only come out to one brother or you may come out to the entire fraternity chapter and Greek community. This decision is all up to you. Use this intervention as a guide to assist in the process of coming out in the college fraternity. Even if you are not ready to come out, always become prepared in case you are purposefully outed on campus. Sadly, you might fall victim to such a situation before you were ready to come out. Think about how you would respond and always remember to own your coming out experience. Determine your choices and make your journey personal, living openly and honestly who you are. The journey will undoubtedly affect you the rest of your life.
by Tracie M. Massey
Source: Shane L. Windmeyer; Brotherhood: Gay Life in College Fraternities