"Anybody have a problem with that?" Leading a fraternity as a gay man

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Cover by Michelle Phillips

 

Monday, October 2, 2017 - 10:58pm

Public Policy junior Daniel Greene remembers one of the first fraternity rush events he attended as a freshman.

“I walk into the house, and the first thing I hear, is ‘that’s so gay,’” Greene said. “Some brother is repeating ‘that’s so gay.’ That’s literally the first thing after I checked in I heard.”

The phrase was thrown around so many times Greene was convinced someone in the fraternity spread word of his sexuality.

“So I thought, ‘OK, maybe not the house for me,’” he recalled.

Greene went to a few more fraternity rush events before finding his place at a house on the corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Hill Street: Lambda Chi Alpha.

“I told them during one of the first two rush events, ‘Hey, I know this has nothing to do with anything, I don’t know whether you’re going to give me a bid, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m openly gay.’”

Then LSA junior CJ Motley, who was in charge of Lambda Chi Alpha’s recruitment in the fall of 2015, said his personal reaction to Daniel's announcement was shame.

“That he would have to think that would have to be an issue or a problem, it was kind of disheartening.”

He recalls that Greene seemed immediately like a great fit for the fraternity after meeting him at a mass meeting.

“I felt good that he could get along with us, be comfortable being around us, but at the same time, I didn’t like the idea that he felt like he wouldn’t fit in because of who he is.”

As a freshman, Greene never could have imagined himself in a fraternity, much less a president of Lambda Chi Alpha. When he was in middle school, he never thought he’d be able to get married or have children. He expected to live a “different” life because of his sexual orientation.

Thankfully, Greene’s right to marry is no longer up for discussion after the June 2015 Obergfell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. And yet, serving as the president of a fraternity, Greene continues to face prejudice because of his sexuality.

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Historically, the Michigan Greek life community has attempted inclusivity of LGBTQ members, but the reality is often murky. A 2005 “Statement for Human Dignity” — signed by the all the major Greek life organizations — affirmed the houses would “not tolerate discrimination of any kind” against LGBTQ members, among other marginalized groups on campus. Yet in October 2016, LSA senior Emily Kaufman — who is a transgender-female — drew national attention after she dropped out of sorority rush after perceived exclusion.  

Back in 2010, a Daily article found many LGBTQ fraternity members were wary of coming out to their brothers due to perceived social stigmas. Four fraternity brothers who went on the record to talk about their experiences as gay men in Greek life preferred to remain anonymous because they never came out to many, if not all, of their fraternity brothers.

“I think at the group level, kind of a pack mentality (exists),” one anonymous fraternity member told the Daily in 2010. “Whenever someone starts jerking around and saying (homophobic) things, but not necessarily meant to be derogatory, that kind of feeds into those perceptions.” 

Seven years after this article was published, Greene ascended to the leadership of an IFC fraternity as an outwardly gay member, reflective of a societal shift toward acceptance of homosexuality. In 2006, Pew found that 54 percent of Americans opposed gay marriage, with only 37 percent in favor. Nine years later, the Supreme Court would codify a right to same-sex marriage, and that figure flipped by 2017, with 62 percent of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage and 32 percent opposed.

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Daniel Greene

Daniel Greene Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

 

Greene is busy on campus. A self-described nerd, he’s an LSA student representative in Central Student Government as well as a peer group leader within the Wolverine Support Network, a student-led organization that promotes mental health.

In grade school, Daniel tried to hide who he was. Some of his fellow elementary and middle school peers would ask if he was gay, and he would always respond with a no. It wasn’t until November of the sixth grade that he finally answered yes. Within a day, everyone at school knew. And Greene feels especially privileged that, in his words, his school was “super accepting.”

However, Greene couldn’t say that all members of his community accepted who he was. That year, he tried joining the football team as a way to fit in. The coach at the time asked, “What are you a fucking girl?” in response to Greene’s high-pitched voice.  

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“I think that there are instances where [Greek life is homophobic]. There’s always room for improvement, but I think it’s trending in the right direction,” Greene said. “I think that the critics are legitimate, but as a whole — from my experience — it’s been a great time; a learning experience for myself and for fraternities.”

After he was elected president of Lambda Chi Alpha in December 2016, some members in his pledge class — as well as others from the pledge class that followed — were uneasy about a gay man at the helm of their fraternity solely because of his sexuality.

While the supermajority of his brothers affirmed his election, some were expressly opposed.

“There are people who, if it were left to them, they would ensure there was no openly gay brother again,” Greene said, emphasizing that this conflict took place in a house he felt mostly accepted in.

At the same time, though, Greene was met with acceptance among members of fraternities at which he never expected to find inclusivity. He’s made friends with members of all different houses.

As president, Greene had to confront misconceptions about members of the LGBTQ community in Greek life, tackling it through two lenses: as an openly gay man and as the leader of a fraternity.  

“For someone who is openly gay, you have to show that it’s normal,” Greene said. “And you can still be as functional and great as a fraternity and foster the brotherhood and social life and ideals as other houses, but I have to come at it from a weird dynamic. I have my own feelings and views as an openly gay man, and I also have separate objectives and obligations as president. You learn if you ignore them, people start to realize the stereotypes are wrong, but it’s different when you’re the president.”

In other words, Greene doesn’t normally take a proactive approach to combatting anti-LGBTQ stereotypes, but as president of Lambda Chi Alpha, he realized he had to.

Confronting stereotypes is nothing new to Greene. Until 10th grade, when he’d answer his home phone, callers often assumed his mother was on the other side. Some people would comment on his hand gestures and articulation of words. Rather than calling out each of these commenters, Greene has an alternative approach that has resonated and allowed him to succeed.

“It’s the willingness to not budge or show fear or show embarrassment or show vulnerability to stereotypes,” Greene said. “In the long term that’s going to help those people realize that (the stereotypes) are not only wrong, but that their perceptions are just off.”

Sometimes, though, Greene feels he needs to alter his personality to fit in with a particular group, such as the board of Interfraternity Council presidents, where Greene felt he “stuck out” among the other members. He discussed how certain individuals in attendance responded consciously and subconsciously to his being gay.  

“When you’ve been openly gay for 10 years, you can spot someone not liking your personality and someone not giving you the time of the day because of that … there are subtle differences,” Greene said. “Do I think that IFC is homophobic? No. Still, I think that there are people in that room who wouldn’t befriend me, or steer clear of me if they could, just because I’m gay.”

For example, Greene said some people would move their name placards to avoid sitting next to him. Others would make subtle jokes behind his back about his sexuality they didn’t think he would overhear.  

In several written statements to the Daily, LSA senior Joey Insalaco, IFC president, said the council is working closely with the University of Michigan’s Spectrum Center to collaborate on additional support programs for LGBTQ Greek life members in the future. Insalaco did not want to elaborate until the details are finalized, but he emphasized there will be some fraternity- and sorority-specific support for members of the IFC and Panhellenic communities, respectively.

Insalaco worked with Greene throughout his tenure and described him as selflessly dedicated to his chapter, earning him Chapter President of the Year at the Go Greek Awards at the end of this past semester.

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Trevor Gullstad

Trevor Gullstad Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

 

Engineering junior Trevor Gullstad had never come out to anyone before college. In high school, he attended dances with girls, taking them solely as friends. It really wasn’t until he met Daniel that he opened up about identity.

He never envisioned bringing another man to one of his date parties during freshman year, and even had doubts he would do it all throughout college.

To his surprise, though, his Delta Chi fraternity brothers supported him when he told them he would be bringing Daniel to one of his first date parties freshman year.

“I said I was going to bring my boyfriend to our date party,” Gullstad said. “And a senior brother said, ‘Anybody have a problem with that?’ And everybody said no, and that was that.”

“That was a big emotional release at that time. I was definitely glad that I got to tell everyone that I was bringing a boy to the party before so he didn’t have to deal with people suddenly wondering once he was there. (I wanted) to make them aware of the full context.”

Greene said the experience was similarly positive. Greene also brought Gullstad to Lambda’s date party. He believes it is extremely important for gay couples to attend these parties to show their visibility and maintain a presence.

“I wanted a place where I could bring home a guy, or bring home a boyfriend or a male to a date party,” Greene said. “Not only could I do it, but I wouldn’t have to think of the implications of doing it. I’m pretty sure, that I was — even though I felt comfortable — the first guy to bring another guy to a date party in recent Lambda history.

“I can genuinely say that almost all my fraternity — if someone did something shitty to me, or somebody did something homophobic — they would not hesitate in standing up for me,” Greene said. “And not ‘because I’m a liberal so I must do this’ urge, but because they genuinely care for my well-being.”

Still, while the overwhelming majority welcomed Greene and Gullstad, there were some sneers.

“There were definitely some people who were taking pictures of us, Snapchatting in a negative way. You could see them from across the room,” Greene said.

Gullstad described himself as “the person to freak out going into social situations” in an email to the Daily. He greatly admired Greene’s tremendous confidence during their dates and “put himself on the line again and again,” to advocate for people to express their true identities.

“(He taught me) about being visible and being super open, showing me that you could be out and proud and have lots of friends who were interested in different activities and different types of people and not have it negatively impact your life,” Gullstad said.

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The Lambda Chi Alpha house.

The Lambda Chi Alpha house. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

 

As a freshman, Greene only entered the IFC fraternity rush process because he wanted to experience every opportunity offered on campus. Some friends in South Quad Residence Hall went to the meetings, and he chose to tag along. Two years later, he is a proud past president of Lambda Chi Alpha.

Grateful for his experience, he still wonders how different his college experience would’ve been had he entered college five or six years ago when the national and campus climate was less accepting of the LGBTQ community.

Greene was fortunate enough to find a house that embraced him for who he was. He stressed that while being LGBTQ is significantly less stigmatized than just five years ago, there is still work to be done. But he encourages the LGBTQ community to approach IFC members with an open mind.  

“A lot of the openly gay people who feel they aren’t accepted in Greek life — not saying that they’re not facing adversity or obstacles, because they are — but some of that has more to do with their perception, and their unwillingness to give people a chance,” Greene said. “Unfortunately as a minority, you’re always going to have that burden of breaking through that ceiling or going over that bump when it comes to meeting new people.”

Just a month into his junior year, it’s clear that Greene has left his signature on campus. Ask Trevor Gullstad, CJ Motley or Joey Insalaco.

He never imagined as a sixth grader gossiping on the sidelines during P.E. that he would break barriers within the University’s Interfraternity Council.