My name is AJ Whitney and I am an openly gay brother of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. I have been openly gay for my entire time at Duke, including the entire rush process my freshman year. I have never, not even for one second, felt judged or ridiculed for my sexuality by the more than 200 brothers and alumni of ATO I have known throughout these last three years. I can genuinely say that I have never felt more accepted, valued and respected by any other community, both at Duke and throughout my life, than by my Taus. For the first time in my life, someone has asked me, “How is your boyfriend?” And he wasn’t just asking it to be nice; he actually cared. That might seem small, but such a casual conversation on my sexuality blew my mind. My brothers support me, through and through. I am not labeled as “that gay guy” or quantified as a diversity statistic, but rather loved for who I am as a brother.
The Duke gay community, which you would assume would welcome me with open arms, has not been as accepting. Quite the opposite, actually. I will never forget one of my first coming out experiences at Duke. He, a fellow gay man, one of my only “friends” at the time, only denied it. Pointed out how I did not fit in to the gay scene. Scoffed at my interest in sports and fishing. I was a freak for not fitting into his agenda, for not conforming to the cookie-cutter mold of what the gay community deems as acceptably “gay.” Homophobia doesn’t exist within the gay community, or so I thought until I came to Duke. And I wish I could say his reaction was unique, but variations of rejection and prejudice have been the norm from both gays at Duke and the majority of students. “I don’t believe you. You don’t act it.” “Why don’t you like drag? What’s wrong with you?” “Prove it.”
I am not saying the Greek system is without its faults. Anyone can see it has many, but we are actively working towards righting those wrongs. The current movement to abolish the Greek life system at Duke fails to consider people like me: people who are welcomed into a community with open arms and embraced for who we are, including our differences. I have found my home at Duke when other communities denied my identity. What I am asking is to consider and not discredit the positive experiences minorities have found within the Greek system, or other areas of campus traditionally thought of as homophobic, racist, etc. I speak only on my experiences, but I also know I am not the only one. Quieting voices like mine perpetuates these intolerances by pigeonholing minorities into the stereotypes accepted by society. I am gay and I am damn proud of it, regardless of how many times I will be told I am not because I do not conform. And if my community, my safe space, where I feel I like I finally belong, is with my brothers, is that so wrong?
AJ Whitney is a Trinity senior.