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Should Gays Go Greek?

They are talking about fraternity things. Worries about member commitment. Conflicts with classes. Choosing who gets in and who gets rejected.

They’re a few pieces of paperwork away from forming — from becoming a legit fraternity on campus — but they need a few more members, which, perhaps, poses their greatest challenge: attracting people.

Group leader Adam Miramon has a suggestion.

“Flame it down a little bit,” Miramon says, with a dead-serious face, to Javaris Hammond, who sits just to his left in a room in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center on a Wednesday night in early September.

The week before at the Round-Up, Miramon thinks that Hammond was acting too gay and his flamboyant, effeminate mannerisms might have scared off a potential recruit.

Hammond seems dejected, but in the end, he agrees. He’ll take his gayness “down a couple of levels,” as is suggested by the group.

This type of exchange is par for the course for a group that’s stuck in somewhat of an awkward conundrum. Miramon, Hammond and two others, Ryan Clinite and Marc Settembrino, want to bring gays into their new fraternity, Delta Lambda Phi, but they don’t want to scare away those who might want to participate but are still in the closet.

“Some people are freaked out that their parents might find out,” Settembrino says.

This makes recruiting for the group difficult. Another roadblock they need to conquer is one-on-one recruiting, a staple draw for other Greek organizations. Sure, you can sit in a booth and wait for an interested passer-by to pick up a flyer, but when you’re gay, Settembrino points out, it isn’t exactly easy to hand out a flyer about a gay fraternity.

“How do you approach somebody?” he asks.

To combat this, the group begins discussing different marketing tactics. They need to make clear that the fraternity is not exclusively gay. At the same time, they don’t want to mislead. After all, the four of them at this table are the fraternity’s only members right now, and they are all gay.

They decide it is in their best interest to seek out a straight, progressive male.

“We need to balance out the gayness here,” Miramon says. “That means football games, that means soccer games that…” Miramon is cut off by groans from the others. The idea of going to football games doesn’t exactly appeal to the rest of the group. But, after a brief discussion, they decide to take it one step farther: Tailgate before the home opener on the traditional stomping grounds of other frats.

Hammond impersonates his best “straight” voice, the voice he might use in the parking lot of Raymond James Stadium. The others laugh. The voice is convincing.

Clinite has another idea. A music major, he knows of a music fraternity where he has a lot of friends. Finding a straight guy to join the group shouldn’t be a problem, he hypothesizes.

“I mean, the gay thing is not an issue over there,” he says, smiling.

But one-on-one recruiting will only get this group so far. They discuss other things they can do to get publicity. Clinite has connections to a Christian radio station for which he has performed before, and they laugh at the notion that the station might help them promote a gay fraternity.

But Miramon feels that if they can get some radio publicity, television could soon follow. The other members aren’t quite sure. But Miramon persists. He thinks current trends support his idea.

“I mean, think about what has been in the news the last four months,” he says.

They start naming off stories. Gay unions. Gay bishop. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

“There’s all this resurgence in the media. Do you really think the media will pass this up?”

Forty-five minutes have passed, and they’ve discussed everything they wanted. Now they debate whether it’s worth making an appearance at Movies on the Lawn, which on this rainy night has been moved into the Special Events Center.

Clinite thinks it’s not worth the while. It’s pitch black inside. People won’t be able to pick them out of the crowd.

But Settembrino disagrees. He thinks if people see the four of them together, wearing their yellow Delta Lambda Phi shirts, it could go a long way.

And after standing for two minutes outside the SEC, it pays off. Sort of.

Just an hour before at the meeting, a student could be seen slowly walking by the open door to the room and quickly peering inside. Before long he walks by again. And once more.

Outside the SEC, the same student stands partially obscured by a pillar, carefully observing the group for a quick moment before turning his head away. When the four members begin to turn in his direction, the student takes off into the Marshall Center.

Miramon prematurely puts out his cigarette and gives chase. Through the center’s glass doors, he can be seen talking to the student. The conversation lasts all of 10 seconds, and Miramon is back outside to report.

It was the student, he says, Hammond scared away last week at the Round-Up. The student tells Miramon that he is mistaken. He had no interest in the group. He just happened to be walking by. He was just killing time, waiting for 9 o’clock to come around, waiting for the movie to start.

They aren’t buying the excuse. And they can all remember a time when they were in a similar position.

What people are saying

Part of the problem that faces Delta Lambda Phi is acceptance, or lack thereof, on campus. Most people interviewed saw no fundamental problem with allowing a gay fraternity to colonize. But once on campus, will a traditionally conservative Greek culture welcome the new fraternity?

“Honestly, I probably wouldn’t think much of it, just as long as, you know, they keep their activities to themselves,” said Derek Gannotta, a freshman Sigma Epsilon brother. “Greek life here is really accepting.”

Joel Playford is slotted to take over as president of his fraternity, Kappa Sigma. He wonders if a fraternity is the right medium for the group to promote its issues.

“It’s OK, because fraternities are about different things. But I wouldn’t promote (homosexuality) within a fraternity; maybe (it’s more fit for) a club,” Playford said.

“Actually, it might be a little too close for brotherhood.”

The closeness of the brothers is, perhaps, the most controversial aspect of this group, Miramon said. He said the governing national fraternity has a “hands-off” policy that prohibits any type of romantic or sexual relationship between brothers and pledges. Miramon said he has taken that policy a step further within his own chapter by prohibiting romantic relationships between members of the same pledge class.

“The idea behind Delta Lambda Phi is not to promote romantic and sexual relationships in the gay community,” Miramon said. “It’s to promote friendships that will be there for the rest of their lives.”

Miramon did concede, however, that once pledges have been confirmed, he can’t prevent brothers from dating.

USF President Judy Genshaft said she doesn’t have a strong opinion on whether it’s a good idea to have a gay fraternity, but she supports the development of the group.

“I want to make it clear that we are an open and non-discriminating university,” Genshaft said. “And I would just hope that all my students would have an open mind to diversity.”

Wilma Henry, associate vice president of student life and wellness, which oversees Greek Life, has much of the same expectations from students as Genshaft. And she isn’t worried about any problems the gay fraternity might run into. Simply put, she doesn’t think there will be any.

“I would hope that we have grown to the point that we are embracing individuals who are different, so I don’t anticipate that there will be any problems with this organization,” Henry said.

Student body president Omar Khan realizes the group might not be welcomed with open arms, but he thinks having the fraternity on campus will better educate students about different lifestyles.

“I have absolutely no problem with it,” Khan said. “One of the principles we ran on was to get the campus culturally involved because education starts in the classroom, but it doesn’t end there.

“Could it be controversial? Yeah. But as far as the betterment of USF goes … I think we are all striving to leave USF better than how we found it.”

Alan Kitchen, president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, recognizes the fraternity’s right to organize, but beyond that, he’s not sure how it will be received.

“I don’t think it’s really good or bad. It’s a free country, you know?” Kitchen said.

Kitchen said he wasn’t aware of any openly gay members in his fraternity. He did express concern about the acceptance of the fraternity, though

“I would like to think they would be (accepting), but some people are idiots. Some people are bigots, you know?”

Freshman Desiree Medley doesn’t think the forming of the group should even be an issue.

“Gay people don’t walk around kissing each other. They act like normal human beings,” Medley said. “I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

The history and future of Delta Lambda Phi

Delta Lambda Phi was established in 1987 in Washington D.C., where its headquarters remains today.

Today the fraternity boasts 18 chapters, and Miramon hopes his group at USF can form the 19th.

Since the meeting in early September, Miramon says the group has a bit more focus. Seven new members have been confirmed, bringing the total to 11. The heterosexual male they were seeking has yet to be found. What they did find, Miramon said, was someone who is “completely in the closet.” Miramon hopes, for now, that he will be able to provide Delta Lambda Phi a link to the heterosexual community.

But what exactly will this fraternity do? What will it stand for?

“That’s going to be an evolution,” Miramon admits.

Because the group is new and many are interested, Miramon has been swamped with a series of different directions in which the group could head. As of now, he said the group is committed to doing one community service project per semester and developing a scholarship through fund raising.

Still present on the minds of many gays is the story of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death off campus in 1998.

While some students and administrators said they think the gay fraternity might help alleviate homophobia and hate crimes, Miramon said that is not his goal.

“Some of the members like myself speak on panels about hate crimes and discrimination, but as an organization our main focus is not education,” he said.

His group can be described in two words, he said: social fraternity.

Miramon said USF’s PRIDE Alliance is the primary educator on campus about gay issues, and he stresses that while the two groups will work together on occasion, he does not wish to compete.

On Friday, Delta Lambda Phi signs its final petition. It will be sent to the national organization, which will decide by mid-October whether to endorse the group’s USF chapter. After that, Miramon will turn to USF’s Unified Greek Council and the Inter Fraternity Council, whose executive boards will decide whether to make the group an official campus fraternity.

“Considering the roadblocks we’ve faced so far, I think we’re just about ready to top the hill,” Miramon said.