The Fraternity Closet: Being Closeted and LGBT+ in Fraternity & Sorority Life

As both members of Fraternity and Sorority Life as well as Professionals, we are aware of the value of diversity in our memberships. LGBTQ+ students, however, provide a unique challenge in that they are not always as visible, and their issues are not always as understood as other minority groups.

Most every chapter in our time will have at least one member who is, at least, curious about different sexuality and gender expression. According to a recent CDC study done across the country on high school students, at least 11.3% of young people do not identify as heterosexual. In fact, 6% identified as bisexual and 2% as gay or lesbian. 3.3% were unsure, or what we would call questioning. Since there is no major intervention that would target these numbers directly between High school and college, it is safe to assume that these numbers would be a good anchor point for what we should see in our student population. However, we do not.

There has been no definitive, large study done to determine the average LGBTQ+ membership in Social Fraternities and Sororities, but very few people would agree that it is 10%. This leads us to one of two conclusions: Either there are more closeted LGBTQ+ members in our organizations, or our organizations are not inviting or appealing to LGBTQ+ people. That same study showed that the 11.3% that did not identify as heterosexual were significantly more likely to suffer from a large host of negative health outcomes. These included risk-taking behaviors such as drunk driving, binge drinking, drug use, and risky sex, but also academic performance, homelessness, and violence. These risk factors are why it is paramount that we encourage our organizations to be more opening and accepting of LGBTQ+ people.

Due to the strict gender norms most social organizations enforce, someone who does not adhere to those norms would be less likely to join, or less likely to show that part of themselves and just act like the others. Because of these rigid gender norms, chapters end up enforcing the dominant culture and hiding or ignoring the minority culture. This is reflected in gendered activities that different groups engage in, like fraternities doing sports and sororities doing crafting. Of course, this varies from chapter to chapter and campus to campus, but we all know that even the chapters who accept deviations from the gender norm do so rarely, and it is often tolerated rather than celebrated. This compounds the problem. If chapter culture is unappealing to LGBTQ+ members, how can chapters recruit more members to help influence its culture?

Fortunately, there is much a chapter can do to be more appealing to LGBTQ+ peers, both out and closeted. One of the more powerful things a chapter can do is create a partnership with any on-campus LGBTQ+ organization. If there is no specific organization, most universities have, at the very least, one staff member who specializes in LGBTQ+ programming or education. Setting yourself up as an on-campus ally to the LGBTQ+ population – and really meaning it – can go a long way.

Something else chapters can do is practice stronger accountability for not only its members but also for other chapters and groups in the community. A group who defends LGBTQ+ students will be more appealing to those students.

The final piece is education. It is the most important aspect of it all. Often, the issues come from lack of understanding. Making sure the information you are providing is accurate is key. Many chapters who have an openly gay member believe that that member will automatically make the other members more open to the LGBTQ+ population. This is not always the case, as one LGBTQ+ identified person does not represent the broad spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities and experiences. Education will help to reduce these misconceptions and microaggressions, making both out and closeted members feel more secure in our chapters.

This topic is a large beast, as it will take some serious organizational introspection to create a culture that is not only accepting of LGBTQ+ members, but also capable of providing effective assistance to that population. LGBTQ+ individuals suffer from significantly higher rates of homelessness, violence, undereducation, poverty, and sexual violence, and our organizations have the necessary infrastructure to help provide solutions to most of these problems. If we are truly dedicated to giving students the skills to succeed, we cannot leave behind LGBTQ+ students, especially those we cannot see.




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