Gay males find greater acceptance among greeks

by Parker Lemke

As the vice president of Delta Lambda Phi, a fraternity originally founded by gay men, Nathan Bakken doesn’t think there’s a need for fraternities that focus only on gay students.
When the national social fraternity was founded almost 30 years ago, Bakken said traditional fraternities wouldn’t recruit gay or bisexual men.
As more gay and bisexual students feel comfortable joining mainstream fraternities, Bakken said his University of Minnesota chapter has faced recruitment difficulties. It has six active members this semester, compared to a usual average of 15 to 20 members.
In response, it’s now focusing more on recruiting straight men, he said.
“It’s much easier to market ourselves as the fraternity founded by gay men for all men,” Bakken said.
As acceptance of same-sex relationships has grown nationwide in recent years, fraternities are becoming more open, including those at the University.
Since the early 20th century, when homosexuality first became understood as a distinct identity by the public, fraternities have historically reacted negatively toward having gay members, said Nicholas Syrett, a University of Northern Colorado associate history professor who specializes as a historian of gender and sexuality in the U.S.
“They defined themselves as being masculine, and they saw homosexuality as the opposite of masculinity,” he said. “By and large, at least until the early 21st century, the attitude of fraternities has been that homosexuals should go elsewhere.”
Supply chain operations freshman Mike Younghans, who’s gay, said his sexual orientation hasn’t affected his ability to identify as a masculine member of a campus fraternity.
After coming out as gay in high school, Younghans said he already felt comfortable sharing that part of his identity.
From bringing his boyfriend to a fraternity formal to everyday interactions, he said he’s received nothing but acceptance from his fraternity brothers.
“I have never once thought ‘maybe I’m not a good fit here,’” Younghans said.
For students looking to join greek life, traditional fraternities can offer a larger community with benefits like housing, Bakken said.
“The guy who wants to join, even though he is gay, wants that traditional [experience],” he said.
Delta Lambda Phi still offers the greek benefits of brotherhood and networking, Bakken said, though it lacks a chapter house. 
While it’s currently a member of the Multicultural Greek Council, the chapter plans to hold a summer recruitment rush and join the Interfraternity Council once it boosts membership.
“We’re always striving to create the most open and inclusive environment for everyone to join,” IFC president JD Braun said.
Though more openly gay men are in fraternities nowadays, Syrett said, there’s still room for improvement.
“The country is changing, and some people don’t care about this in the same way,” he said. “I don’t think though, by and large, that the attitude is one of great acceptance, even though that is true in some select fraternities.”
Though Bakken said he’s heard stories about fraternities in southern states that are still apprehensive about gay and bisexual membership, he said he and friends in other University fraternities haven’t faced any problems.
Psychology freshman and Delta Tau Delta member Justin Horowitz said a substantial majority of the greek system is heterosexual, though he was surprised when he met a handful of gay fraternity brothers on campus.
For the most part, he hasn’t noticed many differences between how he and his heterosexual chapter brothers experience greek life — besides the opportunities for romantic relationships.
“It’s an interesting dynamic, because a lot of exchanges and different greek parties — a lot of it is guys meeting girls,” Horowitz said. “My options for a significant other, I just don’t think would be found through the greek system.”
Overall though, he said he feels he can be himself in his fraternity.
“I am always extremely comfortable talking about guys,” he said.