LGBTQ students discussed their experiences in the greek community.
Elysia Su / The Chronicle
LGBTQ students discussed their experiences in the greek community.

The first annual Greek Ally Week kicked off Monday with an LGBTQ Panel of members of the Interfraternity Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council and Panhellenic Association.

The week aims to celebrate LGBTQ students and allies within the greek community and to further encourage acceptance, said senior Daniella Cordero, one of the week’s coordinators.The panel discussed topics that included navigating social events and greek recruitment as someone who identifies with the LGBTQ community.

Turnout for the week’s inaugural event exceeded the expectations of the planners, with many audience members having to sit on the floor in order to hear the panel. During the panel, many of the speakers expressed that while they still face challenges, they generally feel at home in the greek community.

“I don’t think that my sexual orientation came into play when I was thinking about the recruitment process,” said sophomore Jaclyn Rales, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta women’s fraternity who identifies as gay. “I was more interested in meeting a group of really tight-knit girls in the process.”

She noted, however, that she paid close attention to how the girls in the sororities seemed to react to issues of social equality and equity on campus.

Other panelists, such as sophomore Tyler Nelson, paid more attention to the way individual chapters seemed to approach issues of LGBTQ equality.

Nelson, who identifies as gay, said that he saw some blatant examples of homophobia during the rush process but not from all fraternities. It ultimately led him to be sure he was making the right choice by joining Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, where he felt accepted.

Many of the panelists, including senior MC Bousquette, were not fully “out” when they became a member of the greek community.

“Coming out to my chapter was one of the best moments of my life. It sounds dramatic, but it’s really not,” said Bousquette, a two-term executive board member for her Panhellenic chapter who identifies as queer.

For some, however, coming out was a prolonged, and sometimes difficult, process.

Junior Tre’ Scott met some pushback from a select few older brothers in his chapter of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity when they first found out he was gay. But, he found that through open discussion, they were able to move forward together as brothers. Since then, he has had a very positive experience.

“How are you going to call someone a brother but not accept such a big part of someone’s life?” said junior Genesis Bonds in reference to fraternity members that choose not to believe their brothers identify as LGBTQ. Bonds, who identifies as queer, is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

Ultimately, the panelists agreed that they felt more comfortable after they stopped keeping their sexuality hidden from their friends.

“I finally feel like I am not lying to anyone,” Rales said of coming out.

She noted, however, that while the majority of people have been supportive, not everyone is as accepting.

“There have been people who are like, ‘I don’t get it, I can’t be friends with you,’” Rales said, but she noted that they have often been raised in conservative areas that lack an understanding of acceptance for the LGBTQ community.

The coming out process is not the same for any two people, but every panelist echoed the sentiment that they ultimately felt accepted.

Sophomore Athelia Paulli, who said she best identifies as bisexual, described a “quiet supportiveness” among her sisters in the Pi Beta Phi women’s fraternity. Nobody has ever “demanded a sexuality from her,” but rather have allowed her to define her choices and experiences for herself.

“It is definitely a part of me that I feel proud of, but at the same time, I don’t think it should be any part of what defines me,” Paulli said of her sexuality.

Scott echoed the sentiment, noting that being gay is very low on the scale of what defines him.

A traditional component of social events in several of the greek organizations are mixers between sororities and fraternities. Because these operate under the assumption of mixing men with women, some panelists, like sophomore Joseph Denton, said they can feel uncomfortable at these events.

Sophomore Alex Semien, who identifies as gay, said he has “dissociated the hook up culture from the mixers,” noting that he uses the time to dance with female friends or spend time with his brothers in Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

At first, Rales said she did not see the purpose of going to mixers, but the more she has grown confident with her own sexuality, she realized it is important not to isolate herself. She noted that there are many heterosexual girls in her sorority that are in relationships or not looking to meet new men that also go to the mixers.

Denton, a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity who identifies as queer, said he would feel more comfortable bringing his boyfriend as a date to a fraternity event than going to a mixer.

The panel agreed, with Nelson distinguishing that although a same-sex partner would always be tolerated at his fraternity events, sometimes it feels as though they are not fully accepted by the brothers and integrated into the event.

This situation can be challenging, however, because the date has to be accepting of fraternity and greek life as well, Scott noted.

When trying to straddle the worlds of the greek community and the LGBTQ community on campus, sometimes panelists felt as though they were not fully a part of either.

“Built into the greek system is obviously the gender binary,” Nelson said. “ You split up by guys and girls. It is a heteronormative kind of system.”

Because many students believe that Duke’s greek communities are not a friendly place for LGBTQ students, some feel greek students cannot be truly supportive of LGBTQ equality.

Scott noted that going greek was a choice that he made because he appreciated the values and brotherhood of his specific fraternity. Yet sometimes he feels judged by the rest of the LGBTQ community for his choice.

“We lose so much strength by splitting because some have letters and some don’t, but we want the same things,” Bousquette said. “So in the end, who cares? We lose so much by continuing to be this divided. Let's all talk to each other, fix this, and move beyond it. We are so much stronger if we stand together.”

The Duke community often reduces LGBTQ women to a phase or fetish, Bonds said. She added that after telling a select few peers about her sexual preferences, some told her she would grow out of it while others encouraged her to engage in a threesome.

Being a good LGBTQ ally means being accepting and openly supporting equality so LGBTQ peers feel comfortable coming to you with their personal life, said senior Hilary Novatt, a sister of Alpha Phi women’s fraternity who identifies as queer.

“Don’t be afraid to ask any question, because that is ultimately what we want if there is any confusion about what is going on,” Denton said.

Bonds emphasized the importance of choosing your words carefully, noting that some people are offended by racial or gender slurs, but still use derogatory language about LGBTQ people.

“A lot of people don’t realize how they are marginalizing people of a different group,” she said.

A question from the audience asked whether there is a distinction between a greek organization supporting its own LGBTQ members versus supporting non-greek individuals, highlighting an incident in which a non-greek male was asked to leave a fraternity party for dancing with another male.

Bousquette responded that, although the greek community is not perfect, it is working to be more accepting.“The best thing that my friends could have done is exactly what they did—at least my close friends—and that is that they didn’t treat me like an alien because I like girls,” Rales said.