first_imgWhen Steven Philp ran for president of his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, some of his fraternity brothers opposed his campaign because of his sexual orientation.“I know that one of the issues that was brought up was, ‘Do we want a gay president?’” Philp, a senior majoring in creative writing said. “And a lot of members said no.”Philp said he heard members discussing whether, with a gay president, Beta would be known as “the gay fraternity.” Though he was eventually elected vice president last year, his experiences as a gay member of a fraternity have prompted him to speak out.“It’s stepping into a really foreign and supposedly hostile world,” Philp said. “Everyone knows the stereotypes.”To make that world less foreign and hostile, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Assembly and the LGBT Resource Center have hosted a panel discussion featuring former and current gay fraternity members and social events in the last two weeks to try to start a dialogue about how gay students are treated in the Greek system.But people involved with the events — both gay and Greek — said some of the very misunderstandings that necessitated the discussions may have hindered their attempts at starting a dialogue.The GLBTA and the LGBT Resource Center hosted a SpeakOut panel discussion on Oct. 12. The GLBTA had been in contact with the Interfraternity Council via email during the summer, but eventually the groups fell out of contact, according to IFC president Nick Hamada.IFC later received an email inviting fraternity members to attend the panel and listen to the discussion, but the event was held on a Monday — the same day most fraternities hold formal chapter meetings and sororities host Monday Night Dinner.“The event itself — great idea. The fact that it happened during chapter was a huge oversight,” said Philp, who served on the panel. “And that’s that lack of communication coming from both sides.”Hamada attended the panel, but few other fraternity members did — mostly, he said, because of the conflict with their meetings.“That makes it really hard for people to participate,” Hamada said.This poor scheduling only further emphasized one of the main problems plaguing discussions between these two communities. That misunderstanding — on both sides of the issue — has been a theme throughout several GLBT events held this month.“I don’t think each group understands how the other operates,” said Vincent Vigil, director of the LGBT Resource Center.One sorority is addressing the issue on its own. On Monday, the Delta Delta Delta sorority will host a panel discussion at its house, co-sponsored by the GLBTA and the LGBT Resource Center, about being a lesbian in a sorority. The LGBT Resource Center and GLBTA also plan to hold a SpeakOut panel aimed at sororities in the spring.“Being a lesbian in a sorority is very different from being a gay man in a fraternity,” GLBTA Director Genevieve Flores said. “People aren’t aware of the difference.”Blessing Waung, president of the Panhellenic Council, said she does not think sororities experience the same issues as the fraternity system.“The taboo might be more present in the fraternity community than in the sorority community,” Waung said. “I just don’t feel like there is a blatant discrimination against gay and lesbian people in our community.“I feel like the Daily Trojan’s trying to make an issue where there isn’t one,” she said.Still, Tri-Delt member Chelsea Taylor, a freshman majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, said she thinks it’s an important issue to discuss.“It’s really important that we are more accepting of people of different sexualities and sexual orientations,” Taylor said. “If the fraternities and sororities collaborated with the LGBT community I think it would create a greater sense of belonging for everyone and especially the LGBT.”Waung did say that if members of the Panhellenic community ever approached her and felt the issue needed to be addressed, she would be open to working with the GLBTA.Laura Redfern, vice president of communications for Panhellenic, said though Panhellenic as a whole has not yet addressed the issue, it is not writing it off completely.“We’re full-time students as well. We can only have so much on our plate — but it doesn’t mean it’s not important to us,” Redfern said.Philp thinks the Tri-Delt event is perhaps even a larger step in the right direction than the panel earlier in the month. Though educating the leaders of these councils is great, he said, he believes greater change can be affected by working with specific chapters.“Change from the top down is not as effective,” Philp said. “You really have to start with chapter opinions … Maybe part of the new member education that happens every semester for frats can include some kind of tolerance, some kind of diversity.”Still, the GLBTA hoped the panel would be a step, however small, toward understanding.“We’re interacting and calling awareness to the fact that there are LGBT people within the Greek system and starting up that dialogue between those two communities, making it more of a collaboration,” Flores said.Isaac Ahn, a senior majoring in creative writing, called attention to the issue last spring when he submitted a letter to the editor in the Daily Trojan about his experiences rushing while openly gay. He wrote that while he was rushing Alpha Gamma Omega fraternity, two brothers approached him to discuss his sexual orientation in such a way that Ahn no longer felt welcome.“It was really upsetting, almost traumatizing,” Ahn said in an interview.But what disappointed Ahn more, he said, was that when he approached IFC and the university, he was told nothing could be done.“AGO was one thing,” Ahn said. “But I received no help from IFC or USC.”Further emphasizing the divide between the two communities, however, Ray Carlos, assistant director of fraternity and sorority leadership, said the issue had been handled, though he declined to say how.Ahn’s letter called attention to this issue and helped spark various panels and events this month. Though more gays and allies attended the panel than did Greeks, because of the timing, most everyone involved felt it was a productive discussion. Many insisted it’s just as important for members of the LGBT community to understand the Greek community as for Greeks to understand LGBT.“During the seminar last week ,a lot of people didn’t even realize how the rush process worked, and that alone was very enlightening,” Carlos said.Philp said the LGBT community shares the responsibility for making the Greek and gay relationship better.“There definitely is a tension, and I think that tension is a problem, but I think that tension can be alleviated by communication,” Philp said. “And this is something I place the onus of on the LGBT community. Many members of the LGBT community, once they’re aligned or rejected initially, they kind of turn their backs on it … That’s not healthy.”Both Philp and Ahn said gay males looking to become involved in Greek life can help themselves by rushing “out” — many rush without disclosing their sexual orientation, and this can cause problems later.“You want to get into an organization that’s going to be conducive to yourself and who you are as a person,” Philp said.Philp also encourages other gays to be open about their sexual orientation because he thinks interaction is the way to eliminate misconception between these two groups.“The most powerful tool I had in a frat was exposing to this group of 80 men someone who’s LGBT and who likes football,” Philp said. “Exposure is the only way to change mindsets.”Members of both communities said they have been pleased with the discussions so far and hope communication between the two groups will continue.“Certainly people are scared. They’re scared of what they don’t know,” Flores said. “We’re just trying to open up conversation so that people do know what an LGBT person looks like.”last_img