What to Do When You Learn a Brother/Sister is Gay

questionby Shane L. Windmeyer & Pamela W. Freeman

Most fraternity and sorority nondiscrimination policies and educational efforts neglect to discuss or mention sexual orientation. As a result, many fraternity brothers and sorority sisters more than likely have never knowingly encountered someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual and/or may not know what to do when they learn a brother/sister is gay. Such lack of knowledge and preparation perpetuates the ignorance and fear surrounding homosexuality and jeopardizes brotherhood/sisterhood for both gay and straight fraternity brothers and sorority sisters. This list provides some suggested ideas to keep in mind when a fraternity brother or sorority sister learns that another brother/sister is gay.

A fraternity brother/sorority sister “comes out” to you…

What to do:

  • Listen to what your brother/sister has to say and try to keep an open mind.
  • Understand the personal risk he/she took in telling you and if you are confused, be honest about your feelings. Realize the trust he/she has in you.
  • Realize your brother/sister has not changed. You may be shocked, but remember that he/she is still the same person he/she was before he/she came out to you.
  • Respect his/her choice to tell you by letting him/her know you will not tell anyone he/she is gay. You realize he/she has to come out to the fraternity/sorority chapter when he/she is ready.
  • Do not shy away from your brother/sister. Feel free to ask questions in an open manner to better understand him/her, such as:
    • How long have you known that you were gay?
    • Do other brothers/sisters or friends know that you are gay?
    • Has it been hard for you to carry around this secret?
    • How can I support you?
  • “Actions speak louder than words” so offer your support and willingness to help him/her through his/her coming-out process. He/She may really need a brother/sister to count on right now.
  • Communicate support to your brother/sister. He/She may feel isolated, like he/she is the only one in this situation.
  • Know what you are talking about by using resources on the college campus. Try to educate yourself and, if comfortable, be an ally on the issue.
  • Most importantly, remember the meaning of brotherhood/sisterhood and be a good brother/sister.

A fraternity brother/sorority sister is “outed” to the chapter…

What to do:

  • Approach the brother/sister in private (if possible) and let him/her know you are willing to listen and be a brother/sister.
  • Calm the brother/sister if he/she is upset by the outing and allow him/her to take the lead or speak about his/her feelings.
  • Stand up for your brother/sister as you would for any other brother/sister.
  • Attempt to resolve any conflict among other brothers/sisters who may not understand by asking them to give the brother/sister some time to process his/her feelings.
  • Seek expertise from campus officials or national headquarters if you are concerned about the chapter’s response and need assistance processing the experience.
  • Let the brother/sister know clearly that you value him/her as a brother/sister and as a person, no matter what.

A fraternity brother/sorority sister is suspected or perceived to be gay…

What to do:

  • Try not to assume anything about your brother’s/sister’s sexual orientation.
  • Remember that your brother/sister may be gay, but he/she may not be ready to acknowledge this to himself/herself or others. He/she needs to come out when he/she is ready.
  • Be supportive of your brother/sister, possibly bring up gay topics to communicate that you would be a person with whom he/she can talk.
  • Understand that your brother/sister may not be gay.

Your brother/sister is gay…

What not to do:

  • Do not think it is just a phase and you can help your brother/sister find the “right” woman/man.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions about being gay and/or about his/her coming out process.
  • Do not assume that your fraternity brother/sorority sister finds you attractive.
  • Do not try to change your brother/sister. Accept her as being gay.
  • Do not ignore your brother/sister or treat him/her differently after he/she has come out. Still invite him/her to go along with you wherever you go and, most importantly, do not change who you are.
  • Do not be ashamed or fail to defend a brother/sister who is gay if, otherwise, he/she is a good sister.
  • Do not be afraid to use the word gay/lesbian or bisexual, and do not ignore him/her when he/she brings up gay topics.
  • Do not try to restrict the brother’s/sister’s freedom to share being gay and/or to be a public role model. The Greek system and the campus at-large need more out student leaders to identify with….Do not be surprised if more Greeks start to come out of the closet.
  • Do not be worried about what other chapters think or the reputation of the chapter. Lead by example, and remember that there are gay men/women in every house. Some are simply less fortunate and do not have an “open-minded” environment for brothers/sisters to come out.
  • Do not assume that all his/her guests are his/her dates, and do not make a big deal if he/she brings a date to the house or a fraternity/sorority function. Treat him/her with respect, as you would any other person.
  • Do not kick your brother/sister out of the fraternity/sorority for being gay. Such an action may be in violation of university policy and definitely contradicts the ideals of brotherhood/sisterhood.
  • Do not be afraid to approach a gay brother/sister if you think his/her actions are inappropriate. Hold a gay brother/sister to the same standards as all brothers/sisters.
  • Do not treat the brother/sister as if he/she is a public relations disaster for the chapter. Support your brother’s/sister’s openness, and work together to communicate similar messages. He/She will always speak as a member of the fraternity/sorority. Trust that your brother/sister is going to represent your fraternity/sorority proudly wherever he/she goes, as always.
  • Do not feel let down if the brother/sister decides to leave the house due to other members’ actions or behavior. Be supportive and continue to be his/her friend.

Revised from Out on Fraternity Row: Personal Accounts of Being Gay in a College Fraternity, edited by Shane L. Windmeyer and Pamela W. Freeman, Alyson Publications, 1998.

Shane L. Windmeyer and Pamela W. Freeman, Lambda 10 Project, All Rights Reserved.

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