“We must go deeper than the stereotypes. Gay people come from all walks of life.”
This was the marrow of author Shane Windmeyer’s lecture on Wednesday, which he delivered to a large crowd of USF students — many members of sororities and fraternities — about the importance of being a straight ally to gays and lesbians who are members of sororities and fraternities.
He also presented several facts about the gay community and shattered some commonly held stereotypes.
Windmeyer’s presentation included many commonly asked questions about gays and lesbians, including why gays and lesbians join fraternities and sororities.
“It’s not to play touch football or to decorate,” he joked. “Gays and lesbians join for friendship, camaraderie, brotherhood, sisterhood, leadership and social aspects.”
In essence, the same reasons straight people join.
Some of the issues encountered by gays and lesbians in fraternities and sororities have to do with the gender roles many members face, Windmeyer said. Gay men may worry about being beaten up or seen as feminine for not “getting laid” by women, while lesbians may encounter losses in friendship over not fulfilling a feminine image.
Windmeyer interacted with the audience, giving six students a “quiz for straight people” to find out how much they knew about some aspects of the gay community. He called it their GPA– Gay Point Average. The purpose was to educate the crowd on some symbols of the gay community, including the rainbow, which is a symbol of pride; the upside-down triangle, which was reclaimed after Nazis in WWII tagged gays and lesbians with the symbol in concentration camps; and the Greek symbol Lambda, which symbolizes coming together and creating synergy.
Windmeyer also spoke of the importance of being open and accepting to gays and lesbians that may come out within sororities and fraternities.
“If your best friend was gay, what would you do?” he asked. “This question can make all the difference to somebody who is coming out.”
He explained that many gays and lesbians come out of the closet to be honest about who they are, and that many seek support because of difficulty they might have experienced coming out to family and close friends.
He also mentioned the lack of positive gay role models in the community and the tendency for many people to get their information from TV.
Windmeyer spoke of the positive experience he had in coming out to his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, during his third year in the fraternity.
“What made my fraternity accept me? One word: brotherhood.”
“I think this presentation will help students realize that there may be gays in their fraternities,” said Scot Wilkinson, a member of Phi Delta Theta’s USF chapter. “Hopefully it will make members more comfortable with the issue.”
Windmeyer is the founder of the organizations Lambda 10, Stop the Hate and Campus Pride Net, and is the author of three books that deal with coming out in the Greek community.