An Online Handbook from University of Illinois–Champaign/Urbana
by Kevin J. Hauswirth
Founded in the fall of 2004 at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Greek Allies is a university based coalition of students seeking to create a fraternity and sorority community that better understands and accepts brothers and sisters of vary sexualities. As a traditionally heterosexist community, the Greek Allies face unique challenges when working with a community that is based around heterosexual assumptions- social functions, traditions, language, etc. While nearly any LGBTQ person preparing to come-out must assess the risks of rejections, these risks become enhanced when the rejection may come from the chapter that you consider your closest family and best friends. The Greek Allies work from the assumption that the lack of acceptance is fostered by a lack of knowledge, and to that end it is our mission to educate our brothers and sisters so that every member can be understood and loved equally.
This online handbook is meant to act as a tool kit that other campuses can use to implement their own unique version of Greek Allies. As no two campuses are alike, the following is a guideline and will need to be tailored your specific university. This handbook will aid in the development of your message and implementation of your objectives, but is a document that will be ever-changing and will grow more dynamic as additional campus find their own path to greater understanding and diversity.
To design and implement a longstanding fraternity/sorority organization that promotes educational programming and diversity awareness in regards to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students and their allies (LGBTQA).
Before implementing or launching a Greek Allies group, it’s important to contact other GLBTQ on campus as well as any other Greek Ally organizations to gather resources and compile ideas. In order to effectively tailor your tactics, gauge the campus climate by identify challenges and seeking out allies. Begin to build a cohesive group of influential Greeks and administrators. As you prepare, identify your targets as well as your allies.
Talk to LGBT student leaders and LGBT office directors so they are kept informed as to what you are launching. However, be clear that your intention is not to start another LGBT group- you are an ally group that is working for the same ends, just by new means. Your association with them may need to be unofficial in order to be better received by the Greeks. Entering chapters as a fraternity/sorority group member will help to show that the message is coming from within the community; as opposed from an LGBT group.
Work with your administrators that oversee the fraternity and sorority communities to try and promote faculty involvement. Their attitudes and outlooks on this type of issue will influence the reception of your idea. If the office of Greek Affairs is unwilling to help, try other student affairs administrators, professionals in your LGBT (if available) or faculty or other staff members.
Keep in mind though, that the closer you stay linked to the Greek community, the better.
In the beginning, costs will be minimal. It varies from campus to campus, but see how to get free room space. Know the places to go on campus to get advising on how to develop a budget for your organization. This may be the fraternity and sorority professional or some other person who works in student life. If you have an office of LGBT concerns, speak with them as well.
Designing and Articulating Your Message
Few people want to save the “jungle,” but preserving the rainforest is a national concern. “Gay rights” may not go over well in a chapter, but unity, brotherhood and sisterhood are the foundation of the Greek community. “Activism” is a politically charged term- “educational” is not. Your gateway into the minds of Greeks will be how you articulate your message and purpose. Make it clear that when talking to the Greek community, LGBTQ issues are somewhat uncommon and even uncouth, but our objective is rather to advance and educate Greek community in an ever-changing diverse society. Avoid the “ you need to be accepting because they deserve the same rights” approach; instead, go with the “how being more open is good for you, the hetero” approach (See FAQ). Simply stated, our focus is on Greek community as a whole, and how supporting LGBTQ Greeks will add to the betterment of the Greek community. With a more open and accepting atmosphere towards LGBTQ people, are our chapters able to deal with a member that may not be straight.
Challenge Greeks by asking, “Is it truly a brotherhood or a sisterhood if a member chooses to hide an aspect of themselves to be accepted?” The coming-out of a member can challenge a chapter, and our goal is to make it easier both for that member and for the rest of the chapter. Play egos: “Since you’re so influential in the community and comfortable with your sexuality, why wouldn’t you use your power to help out a brother or sister?”
As a bridging organization, you’ll need to make sure that LGBT groups are kept up to date with your goals and progress. Be sure to communicate with queer groups that the goal of the GA is to eventually bridge a gap between the two communities, but in order to achieve this end, we need to gain the trust and respect of a traditionally homophobic community. The closer the Allies are contained in only the Greek communities, the easier it will be to control our image, and image (or perception) is how we will get into the chapters’ front door.
If you campus has LGBTQ groups, talk to them about starting a monthly roundtable discussion where they can report on what they have been doing all month. Share resources and building informal coalitions. If they encounter closeted Greeks, send them your way. And if you find a Greek that needs more guidance than the Allies can offer, know what resources your campus can offer.
Be sure these objectives are clear and in writing. Create a How to Talk about Greek Allies brochure or handout so that everyone is on the same page and there is no confusion as to your motives. Download copy of How to Talk about Greek Allies brochure.
At its foundation, keeping the group focused as a sub-community of the larger Greek community may be best; however, if there are outsiders who feel as strongly as we do about making a change, utilize their skills. By targeting not only powerful Greek student leaders, but also dynamic individuals on campus, you can build a diverse coalition that draw on varying skills and ideas.
Don’t be afraid to capitalize on positive stereotypes in order to change them. Nowadays, thanks to media portals of LGB people, you may find many students looking for a Will to their Grace- their very own gay best friend. Don’t be put off by this; rather, take their love for “gays” and teach them how to combat the real pressures facing the GLBTQ communities.
Recruiting / Getting the Word Out
The key to the Greek Allies’ success is first realizing that not everyone will listen to us; so our efforts need to be focused on finding right channels to see that our message is received. Find those who can influence, and educate them; authenticate the influential voices on campus. We cannot change the minds of everyone, but we can provide the resources necessary to open dialogues that will challenge preconceptions.
While you work to find progressive minded Greeks in chapters, look in progressive groups for like-minded Greeks, or those motivated to make a change in the Greek community. (Student ACLU, College Democrats, feminist orgs, etc) Also, as you will need skilled organizers, advertisers, marketers, public speakers, etc, get in contact with professional organizations on campus and tell them you are have a new, innovative way for student to take part in a ground breaking organization that will help build their professional skills and their resumes. Send this same message to professors asking them to pass the word onto their students. You may even find a faculty member that wants to play a more active role in the Greek Allies as an advisor.
Start one on one. Have coffee or do lunch with influential Greeks and chapter officers. Get ideas and find out who you can get on board. Once you’ve told all your friends to talk to their chapters, target the chapter leadership. Remember that not everyone will listen to you, so make sure the person who delivers the message will be taken seriously. In addition to having students contact chapters, see if PFLAG-types would be willing to write personal letters about why this is important from a parental perspective.
Greek Community Governing Councils – ask to be invited to meetings of the executive boards of the governing councils on your campus. Look for opportunities to partner on existing programs
Chapter Presidents– a must. Do your governing councils have a presidents’ council meeting? Try getting the word out there.
Membership Development Officers– or who ever is in charge of “brotherhood/sisterhood.” Is it truly a brother/sisterhood if a member has to hide an aspect of his/herself in order to be accepted? We’re not trying to get you to rush out and hang up a rainbow flag, but rather let’s work to make the all existing members as comfortable as possible
Risk Management– A member coming-out can but that member at risk and cause great turmoil in the chapter if not handled properly. Imagine the impact an out member in a chapter. Work with risk management to be proactive in discussing such issues so that if they arise can be handled in a manner that is beneficial both to the chapter and the lgbtq member.
Alumni Relations– As straight Greek may very well be a gay alum. Use whatever resources you can, such as the Lambda 10 Project (www.lambda10.org), alumni associations, Association of Greek Advisors) to find gay alumni. Every chapter looks to their alums for financial support, so use their influence to convince chapters that while they think they are all straight now, be careful who you say ‘dyke’ or ‘fag’ around at Homecoming. Draft a letter that out alumni can send to their chapter, even if they weren’t a member of your university’s chapter. Downloadsample letter.
New Member Educators– Offer to hold a workshop for pledge classes. Make sure you always play up the benefits of such a program for their chapter.
Office of Greek Affairs– How can they help market your group? Ask. Newsletters? Mass emails? Meetings? Will s/he write letters to national HQ highlighting and thanking active chapters?
Campus Wide Campaign– Hit the Greeks everywhere they go while at the same time making a presence on campus with ads everywhere on campus. Rally up some advertising majors and get them on this.Download pdf copy of sample ads. How can you create a clever t-shirt that gets the point across while still allowing allies to wear it without it being “too gay”
Public Relations– Learn how to work local media outlets. Be annoying and keep calling reporters and campus presses. Try pitching your events as a link to national/local issues. For example “Local Sororities, Fraternities Work Stand Up for Gay Marriage” “Frats making Gay Rights Human Rights.” Getting press off campus may help motive your university community.
Plan of Action– With a supportive base in place, start hammering out solid objectives and programming. As you create leadership roles, decide who will be in charge of overseeing each initiative.
Policy Changes– Work with chapters and national orgs to write GLBT non-discrimination policies into their bylaws. Provide samples of such policies letter-templates that chapters can use to contact their national headquarters.
Outreach– Depending on the dynamics and numbers of your group, think about using your website as a means for closeted or questioning Greeks to talk to someone who understands. Will your Greek Allies focus on outreach for closeted/questioning Greeks or remain an educational group for the larger Greek community? Think about posting a profile on Gay.com, PlanetOut, Connection etc. When those closeted Greeks hit up a chatroom they can find your group’s profile and contact info.
Workshops– Run a “Train the Trainers” workshop to teach Greeks how to lead ally workshops. Then, pair up a sorority woman with a fraternity man and have them co-facilitate workshops in each chapter. (link- our outline) This is a key point in selling the event- the interaction with sororities. Chances are, the women will hop on board first, so use that to get to the men.
Large workshops and presentations are key and may be the best way for you to make a difference and educate Greeks. If you have the resources available, have a third party come in to run the workshop.
Aside from designing the content of the program, you need to design an aggressive campaign to get people to attend. Put together a committee of students who will be responsible for promoting this event and insuring a strong turn out. Assign each member of the committee to a group of chapters. This member will be the personal liaison between their chapters and the Greek Allies. It’s harder for a chapter to say “no” to a live person and will provide a personal resource for chapter presidents as they talk with their chapters. The head of this committee will need to check up on committee member to make sure chapters are being contacted and consistently asked, “so, who are you sending to the presentation?” There’s nothing wrong with a little guilt trip.
Branching Out– There is no reason why the good works of the Greek Allies should only target Greeks. As an influential community on campus, offer educational programs to residence halls, classes, teams and other groups. Image the power of a pro-LGTBQ message coming from the Greek Community.
Organize the Organization– Build a Foundation
Make sure that as you build a leadership structure or executive board, an officer covers every one of your objectives. Download sample from University of Illinois Greek Allies. Recruit an advisor or multiple advisors to help as well. Since some of the Greeks that want to be most involved may already be balancing a hectic schedule, use committees and delegate. An exec board of 5 or so Greeks can each work with their own subcommittees on a schedule that works for them. Keep the board in close communication and let them communicate initiates to their contacts.
Keep everything you do organized and clearly documented; Outlines for events, attendance numbers, chapters attending, press releases, phone lists, contact lists, rosters, speeches, posters, ads etc. Make sure that the next generation of Greek Allies on your campus can keep the ball rolling. If your leaders are juniors and seniors, encourage them to work with a younger student to show them the ropes. Once the semester or year ends, put all your documents on CDs and pass them along to the new officers.
This document is in its first edition as we try to spread the idea of Greek Allies to other campus. After a successful semester, maybe you can write the second edition based upon experiences breaking down homophobia in your campus’s chapter.
Frequently Asked Questions
Anticipate some of the preconceived ideas some may have concerning LGBT issues. Be prepared for….
“We don’t have any gay people in our chapter.”-This may very well be true, however with an estimated 10% populations not being straight, the odds are you may or will have a queer member. Also, we aren’t forcing anyone to go out and recruit gays. Our contention works on more of a “what if” basis: What if you have a queer in your house? What if someone comes out? What if a prominent alum is gay? While a chapter may claim to not have any gay members, we find that many members of Greek organizations remained closeted until graduation due to the lack of a climate of acceptance. Additionally, many LGBT people don’t even come out until their early 20s; thus, gay members may exist despite the fact that a chapter rushes only “straight” members.
“I don’t want some gay hitting on me drunk.”-First of all, gays do not join chapters to get laid. Secondly, if a member comes out to you, the chances are you have already lived with him/her and gotten drunk together many times. If they didn’t hit on you then, what makes you think they will now. They haven’t changed as a person, it’s only your perception that has been altered.
“I’m already cool with gays.”- Great, now lets get the rest of the chapter onboard. Also, while you may be cool with gays, would you know what to say if a brother or friend came out to you? Would you know how to help him and how to talk to the chapter?
“How does homophobia affect me? I’m not gay.”- Homophobia doesn’t only affect gays. Homophobic terminology is used to define gender roles and stigmatizes those who don’t fit socialized norms. For example, a heterosexual brother who won’t sleep with a girl, or who has more artistic interests is called a faggot. The brother must either comply with these norms, and thus be untrue to himself, or be dubbed a “faggot” and thus ostracized from the group.
“Gays do not need our help, look at Will and Grace and QueerEye. Seems like they’re doing just fine.”- While popular media makes it seem like the gay community is doing great with increased exposure comes increased violence. Violence towards gays increase about 28% when Ellen came out, and during the presidential elections, we saw a rise in anti-gay violence of over 100% in some states.
“My house is conservative”- Challenge people to not view this as a political issue. It isn’t about right vs. left wing. It is about people creating a safe environment to support people they label as brothers and sisters. However, once we leave this university, we are going to have to work with many different types of people. Even if you don’t respect Jews, blacks, women, gays, Hispanics etc, you may have to work with (or for) these people. Learning to work effectively with varying groups of people is a necessary life skill. Fraternities and sororities provide training for members to enter into a “real world” environment. Failure to embrace diversity in your fraternity will ill-prepare you or others for the differences you will encounter working in a pluralistic society.