Being gay and Greek at SMU
The two freshmen met at the first Boulevard of the football season in 2012. After forming an inseparable friendship, the two became roommates, and later began dating. The two women decided to keep their relationship private since neither were ready to come out to their friends and family.
One of the women, a Meadows student, was a member of a popular sorority and urged her girlfriend, a student in Cox at the time, to rush in the spring of their sophomore year. Both women shared a close group of friends who were members of Greek life and thought the social and networking activities a sorority offered would be fun and rewarding.
The Cox student, who is now majoring in a communications discipline, decided to go through the recruitment process. At first, the recruitment process went well. She thought she was on her way to receiving a bid. But then, suddenly, everything changed.
A few upperclassmen in the sorority the woman had her heart set on, the one her girlfriend and close friends were members of, had discovered the secret and shared it with other members.
The couple’s sexuality, once private, was now public. The communications major dropped out of the Greek recruiting process the day she was outed. Soon, news about the relationship spread across the chapter and the Greek community.
“I know there were a couple of individuals in the organization that decided they did not want me because of my sexuality,” said the communications major. “At the time, all I knew was that everyone would eventually find out and that terrified me.”
The Meadows student, who was already a sorority member, said she was approached by a sorority sister who told her that her girlfriend would have been cut anyway because the group didn’t want to be known as the “lesbian sorority.”
The sorority has declined to comment on the two students, their situation, or whether or not the student would have received a bid if she had not dropped out. One member of the sorority said that many of the members that had been involved are no longer students at SMU. She said that many current members would welcome new members regardless their sexual orientation.
Although the sorority would not comment, the organization is known nationally as relatively open minded and open to a diverse membership, according to Campus Pride.
Despite dropping out of recruitment, the communications major said she received a number of text messages from sorority members: close friends, girls she had met during recruitment week, and some she had never spoken to. These supportive messages helped her realize she had friends regardless if she was Greek or not.
Despite the support, one thing remained.
“In the end, after rush, word got out and people knew about the one thing I was not ready yet to reveal,” she said.
Both she and her girlfriend declined to speak on the record for fear of their sexual identities becoming more widely known. The two women are still not out to their families.
“When news got out about our relationship, it wasn’t our decision,” said the Meadows student. “I’m not ashamed of my relationship or who I am, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to come out to everyone. I want to make sure our families hear it from us and it’s something we’re ready for. Coming from a traditional family, I want to make sure enough time has passed so they take it as a serious mature relationship.”
There are gay and lesbian students on every college campus, some of them out and many not. In the Greek community at SMU and elsewhere, people may or may not be open about their homosexuality, say both gay and non-gay students.
Junior Jacob Conway and Sigma Phi Epsilon member knows many people in Greek life who feel they can’t come out.
“Either their sexuality is kept private and they lead one life or they come out of the closet and live openly as a gay person, not knowing how their family and friends will react,” said Conway.
SMU’s Panhellenic Council declined to comment on Greek life and the number of gays in their chapters.
Assistant Dean of Dedman College, Director of University Honors, and Director of Dedman College Scholars Program, Dr. David D. Doyle, who identifies himself as a gay man, says anytime people attempt to come up with a number to describe the gay community, they are really only engaging in guess work.
“We do not have statistics regarding the exact number of LGBTQ, lesbian, gay students on campus,” he said. “I believe most scholars now believe that homosexuals are around 5 percent of the population in general.”
But it would be a stretch to imagine that this percentage would be the same for fraternities that have been known for their homophobia for decades now, Doyle added.
Coming out is a difficult decision for many homosexuals and bisexuals. It determines if they want to live their life one way or in an entirely different way.
Senior and Chi Omega member Emily Hegi believes a person’s sexuality should never be a discussion topic among sorority members. If and when it becomes an issue, the Greek system needs to be reexamined.
“I’ve had such a great experience at SMU in my sorority, and it makes me so sad to think some people may have not had that,” said Hegi.
Only five out of more than 50 people in Greek life interviewed for this story were willing to comment on the record. Most declined and others wished to remain anonymous due to fear of backlash they would receive from their chapters.
“They told us not to make any statements so we don’t say anything that could get us in trouble,” said a junior Chi Omega member.
Dr. Doyle believes Greek life tends to be particularly homophobic and non-welcoming for no logical reason.
“So much of their bonding between men would be extremely problematic for most male students if they started to think in terms of their brothers consciously as sexual interests,” said Doyle.
Organizations such as SMU’s Women & LGBT Center and SPECTRUM are available for gay students at SMU. The Women and LGBT Center provides many resources, events, and opportunities for incoming and current students who self identify as LGBTQ to learn more about current LBGTQ issues affecting the community.
Marlon Carbajal is the Co-President of SPECTRUM and said that the center provides students a safe and comfortable environment where they are free to express any sexual or gender identity.
“Because the center is very welcoming, students often utilize the space to hang out and socialize with each other. In a way, the center has become a home away from home for many students,” said Carbajal.
With gay marriage becoming legal in many states, the Presbyterian Church (USA) changing its constitution to allow gay marriage, and companies offering benefits for gays and lesbians, one could assume that being gay today is easier than it’s ever been. However, one of the most difficult places to be gay is in the narrow halls of Greek chapters.
Dr. Doyle believes life is getting easier for outed gays, but finds many students are unable to be who they are and accepted in institutional settings.
“Most recently there has been general lip service to equality in a general way, but on the ground the situation has not changed an awful lot,” said Doyle.
Greek organizations have strong traditions. According to the 2015 statistics from College US News, there are 32 percent of men in a fraternity and 48 percent women in a sorority at SMU. Hegi believes their large presence on campus has the ability to lead on the issue, and reassure gays who may or may not be out feel they can have a place to be who they are and feel accepted.
Hegi argues that the majority of Greek life members are accepting of gays, but that some believe having an outed gay person in a sorority or fraternity puts the group at risk for being labeled as gay.
“This attidude hinders the acceptance of gays and slows down the progress for gay rights,” said Hegi.
Sam Digiovanni, a recent graudate and Sigma Phi Epsilon member, believes there is a level of tolerance at SMU.
“I came out to all my friends during pledgeship and it was so well received, probably because I formed strong bonds first,” said Digiovanni.
Digiovanni said, however, that some of his straight friends were happy they didn’t have to be in his place.
“I felt like when I came out guys thought ‘good for you for being that token gay person, but thank god I’m not the one dealing with it,’” he said.
Digiovanni believes the environment at SMU may make it uncomfortable for some to feel safe coming out. In addition, people who are already out seem to believe that rushing a sorority or fraternity is not an option for them.
“It’s almost as if you have to go through rush, get into a chapter while hiding who you are, make friends, and then come out to be accepted by these people who are your brothers and sisters,” said the communications major.
According to Conway, Greek life is not the only system on campus where members of the LGBT community feel uncomfortable revealing their sexuality. When certain members of the Greek community are ostracized for coming out of the closet, it sends negative, hopeless messages to other LGBT members who are involved in other campus organizations. Conway explains that every student organization on campus has members who are discouraged to reveal their true sexual orientation, including Student Senate, athletic teams, and student life in general.
“All of these people are in your life and you don’t know it. How does them coming out change any of that? It doesn’t and it shouldn’t,” said Conway.
Should the LBGTQ community have to create separate groups specifically for gays to be accepted at SMU? Doyle believes the answer is no since history has proven segregation never works.
“The best way to solve social problems is through integration,” said Doyle. “Just look at out country’s history.”
Digiovanni referenced a scene in the 1989 movie “Dead Poets Society,” where a group of young men stand on top of desks. The scene symbolizes looking at life in a different way and having the wisdom to know when there is a time for daring and a time for caution.
“There needs to be an “O Captain! My Captain!” scene across campus. If we can create an environment where suddenly 30 or more Greek members can stand up and say ‘I’m gay’ at once, it will immediately empower others in and out of Greek life to be who they are,” said Digiovanni.