Rushing to Comeout: Back in the 20th Century, the Greeks Didn't Mix with "Freaks." Now Many Fraternities and Sororities Welcome out Pledges and Support Members Who Reveal They're Gay or Lesbian

By Vary, Adam E. | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), October 12, 2004 | Go to article overview

Rushing to Comeout: Back in the 20th Century, the Greeks Didn't Mix with "Freaks." Now Many Fraternities and Sororities Welcome out Pledges and Support Members Who Reveal They're Gay or Lesbian


Vary, Adam E., The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


At the start of the 2003 spring semester at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Ryan Miccio was in knots. The sophomore had already told four of his most trusted Alpha Tau Omega fraternity brothers, including the chapter president, that he was gay. Now, on this balmy January day, as they all packed inside the off-campus home for an informal meeting, Miccio realized it was time to tell the entire house.

"You guys," the chapter president said, "Ryan has something that he'd really like to talk to you about, and I need everyone to sit down, be serious, and pay attention." He then handed the chapter's gavel--a sign of respect--to Miccio.

"I made it very, very brief and very to the point," Miccio remembers. He touched the chapter badge he was wearing over his heart, stood up, and said, "I just need you all to know that not only am I a member of this fraternity but I am a gay member of this fraternity."

At first his fellow brothers stared back blankly. But then the gavel was passed around, and just about everyone took the time to voice their support. After the meeting adjourned, a few guys--the kind who Miccio thought might have trouble with his sexuality--invited him out for drinks and burgers. "I thought, Wow, this is great!" he recalls.

A similar scene is playing out in universities elsewhere as openly gay and lesbian members of the notoriously conservative college Greek system are finding acceptance among their straight brothers and sisters. Deciding whether to accept a fraternity brother who comes out is really no longer an issue, says Shane Windmeyer, coeditor of Out on Fraternity Row and coordinator of the Lambda 10 Project, a clearinghouse for fraternity and sorority issues concerning gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people.

Beyond the common credo of "once a brother, always a brother," several major national fraternities have added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policies. Even those houses that don't go that far keep a supply of gay-friendly literature on such topics as what to do if a brother comes out of the closet. Meanwhile, during the past decade university administrators and the national Greek organizations have cracked down on hazing, which all too often has involved some sort of homophobic humiliation.

What is much less certain, however, is whether any given Greek house will accept an already openly gay student into the fold. "Rushing openly gay is still a huge problem," says Windmeyer, "because people get to know you not as an individual but as that 'gay' label."

Take the tale of Travis Shumake, whom Windmeyer will feature in his book Brotherhood (due out next year from Alyson Publications). As a freshman at Northern Arizona University, Shumake was an out cheerleader and freshman class president. When he first met the men of Sigma Chi, most of them were immediately won over. He was a lock for a bid into the fraternity, they told him, and anyway, Shumake's father was a Sigma Chi; Travis thus was a "legacy"--essentially entitled to a bid.

Except he didn't get one. A handful of seniors voted against Shumake because, he says he learned a few weeks later, "they didn't want to become known as the 'gay' fraternity," and all bids must receive a 100% vote. OK, Shumake thought, who needs Sigma Chi? So the following spring he rushed Phi Delta Theta, got a bid, and started the pledging process. But after six weeks a senior brother gave the fraternity an ultimatum: The gay pledge goes, or I go. Since Shumake wasn't yet a full-fledged brother, the Phi Delts gave him the boot.

After such an ordeal, one might expect Shumake to wash his hands of the entire Greek system, mid he did--for a year. By this past spring all the Sigma Chis who'd been against his membership had graduated, so the fraternity approached Shumake, wishing to make amends with a bid into the brotherhood. (Ironically, Shumake just so happened to be dating a closeted Sigma Chi brother. …

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