Tuesday, January 25, 2000

'Gay-frat' tag source of disagreement

Some members emphasize diversity

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At a recent meeting of the University of Cincinnati fraternity Delta Lambda Phi, one member half-jokingly suggested inviting over several sororities and staging a wet T-shirt contest.

        Whether it would draw a crowd was not certain; Delta Lambda Phi is UC's first and only fraternity founded by gay men.

        “The main purpose ... is to find dignified social activities irrespective of sexual orientation,” said Jesse Claibourne, the group's president. “I envisioned a place where men of common experience could get together and have meaningful conversation.”

        Mr. Claibourne sought “men of common experience” but found a remarkably diverse group for a college fraternity: of the 11 members, three are not gay and six are black or Asian-American.

        And as the men offered bids to two potential members last week, the “gay-frat” tag has become a source of internal disagreement. Some members embrace it while others stress the group's diversity.

        The fraternity was founded 10 months ago by Mr. Claibourne, a UC junior from Wilmington, Ohio, who came across the national fraternity's Web site while surfing the Internet.

        The national fraternity was founded in 1986 in Washington, D.C. It has 25 branches nationwide, including chapters at Ohio University in Athens and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

        As did some other members of UC's chapter of Delta Lambda Phi, Mr. Claibourne felt excluded from the traditional Greek system.

        “I think that with my effeminacy, with my mannerisms, I wouldn't have been given a bid anywhere,” said Mr. Claibourne, a free-lance makeup artist.

        That anxiety need not extend to interfraternity programs, said John Fandrich, president of UC's Phi Gam ma Delta fraternity. He foresees no opposition in his group to social activities with Delta Lambda Phi.

        He predicted that not all 34 Greek organizations at UC would be so accepting.

        “Sororities are generally more open-minded, mainly because they don't have the stereotypical frat boy in them,” Mr. Fandrich said. “There are some people that are just homophobic.”

        Partly for that reason, some members of Delta Lambda Phi want to peel off the “gay-frat” label. Jeff Carpenter, a freshman from Cincinnati, prefers to stress its uncommon diversity.

        “The way it is now, you got your black frat, your Spanish frat, your guys-who-wear-white-hats frat,” Mr. Carpenter continued, “We can all be cool without having to be alike. It's not like, "Oh, this is the gay fraternity.' It's not about that.”

        But to some, Delta Lambda Phi is about that.

        Being known as the “gay frat” clearly identifies the group to potential rushees and doesn't hurt for pub licity purposes.

        Several gay members said Delta Lambda Phi fulfills a social need that the gay bars and UC's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance does not. The alliance is more activist/political than social, members said.

        The only common element that the 11 members have found is Roman Catholic upbringing, graduate student John Bellando said.

        Students outside of the Greek system may never have heard of the group.

        Ryan Savage, Sigma Nu fraternity president, said he knew of Delta Lambda Phi only because he attends Interfraternity Council meetings. He also said his group might pursue joint activities with Delta Lambda Phi.

        But as rush closes and Delta Lambda Phi establishes its name, members such as Mr. Carpenter are hoping it is without the “gay-frat” label.

        “To me, (the gay-frat tag) is ignorance,” he said. “And if we want to label ourselves as that, well then that's ignorance, too.”


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