Panel examines gay Greek issues

by Mark Herman | 11/14/02 6:00am

A large and enthusiastic crowd engaged in an informal discussion last night on the meaning of being both gay and Greek at Dartmouth.

Organized by John Ashworth '03 and Sara Baron '03 as a project for Professor Michael Bronski's class on gay and lesbian studies, students listened to the experiences of four gay Dartmouth seniors within the Greek system and then discussed their own perspectives for almost two hours.

Ashworth, the openly-gay president of Sigma Nu fraternity, said that being gay has not affected his relationships with fellow members. "They still taunt and tease me like everyone else," he said.

Tim Stanne '03, a member of The Tabard coed fraternity, agreed. "I know I always have a safe place to go to," he said.

Although mostly positive, not all panelists were pleased with their Greek experiences. Lauren Foley '03 is still in the process of depledging from the Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority.

Although she recognized her sisters' efforts to be tolerant and supportive, Foley said she felt that their efforts at being politically correct reminded her of their differences.

"That's why I got out," she said. "I didn't see anything they could do, and I didn't want to make them change. I really don't fault them."

Former Theta President Laura Christman '02 felt more comfortable being gay at a sorority. "People really are okay," she said. "They kind of demand that I bring my girlfriend to the formal."

Christman, who once struggled with her sexuality, shared a story about her first girlfriend with the audience. "One of the first things I told her when we started going out was, 'Don't ever expect me to be on a gay and Greek panel.'"

The comment was greeted with laughter from the audience.

The program then moved from the panelists' experiences to a more general discussion of issues of sexuality and gender in the Greek system and on the Dartmouth campus.

Although there was a clear effort by some fraternities -- including Sigma Nu, which recently changed its constitution to accommodate provisions against discrimination of gays -- many felt that it remained difficult to be gay within the Greek system.

"I think it would be an uncomfortable environment to come out in," remarked one Delta Delta Delta sorority member, "but not because it's homophobic."

Other fraternities continue to have reputations for being anti-gay, whether or not they are true. One member of Chi Gamma Epsilon fraternity said he was warned that his house was "considered one of the most homophobic places on campus."

"It's not," he said.

Most students agreed that the Greek system could not be judged as a whole, but must be assessed on a house-by house and individual basis.

One member of Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority repeatedly reminded the audience that the most dangerous form of homophobia are the passing jokes or comments that make people question their ability to be open about their sexuality.

In the end, Ashworth, who said he believes the Greek system has the potential to do something to allow all groups to feel accepted, reminded the audience that "it takes a confrontation."