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, some recommendations on what you need to do when you learn that a 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…

Your Brother/Sister may need support to deal with shameful feelings that someone in the family is gay. They will also need assistance in denouncing and bullying their peers when others find out that they have a gay or lesbian sibling. As a sibling, here’s a list of what NOT to do when you already know you have a gay brother/sister:

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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