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Another tired stereotype falls

BY ASHLEY OERMAN | DECEMBER 08, 2009 7:30 AM

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Joey Diaz is one of only a few members in the UI’s greek community to come out while still active in his fraternity.

“I could not imagine still being in the closet,” the 21-year-old said. “I wish I could advocate for people to come out.”

In mid-November, the UI Interfraternity Council updated its bylaws to include an anti-discrimination policy that protects gays and other minorities.

Chase Bottorff, former president of the council, said even though fraternity chapters and potential new members were already covered by university policy and state laws, they put the act in place to display the fraternities’ character.

Bottorff, 21, who introduced the clause to the council, said he wanted to show that the 700 men in the UI’s greek community, often seen as archaic, are open-minded. He hopes the policy will encourage more gay students to join fraternities, he said.

Diaz said the policy is evidence of a cultural shift toward greater acceptance.

Nicholas Syrett, the author of The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities, said tolerance of gay members is a new trend for fraternities.

Though not specific to sexuality, the North American Interfraternity Council — which oversees the UI’s 13 fraternities — states in its constitution and bylaws that member chapters should not prohibit any good-standing male enrolled full-time from rushing or joining.

During his freshman year, while he was still “in the closet,” Diaz decided to take part in fraternity recruitment or “rush,” a process that introduces potential new members to each fraternity or chapter.

After accepting an invitation to be a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Diaz said he continued to hide his sexuality because he was not at a stage in his life in which he was comfortable coming out.

“I always told myself I wasn’t coming out until after college,” he said.

But when UI freshman Thomas Paulsen decided to rush this fall, he had a different experience.

Already openly gay at the time of rush, the 18-year-old said he was excited about joining a group that many in the gay community would avoid, though he was worried about how tolerant the stereotypical “frat guy” would be of him.

Mark Rigby, recently elected president of the Interfraternity Council, said recruitment could be more difficult for someone openly gay.

“It’s a sad fact, but there are definitely chapters that would be more hesitant to accept [Paulsen’s] membership because he is gay,” Rigby said.

While Paulsen said he did not feel as though anyone was deliberately discriminatory during the chapter visits, he said there were some chapter members who used offensive phrases, such as “that’s gay.”

Bottroff said recruitment workshops, which teach greek members the rules of rush, will, hopefully, discourage similar language.

An increase in the number of gay people in the greek community would help fraternity members learn about the community, he said.

Bottroff wants to create a partnership between the greek community and the UI’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Allied Union at events or movements.

Cody Shafer, a member of the organization, said he “could absolutely” see a collaboration between the two groups and noted that part of the purpose of his group is to help members feel empowered.

“We want to make them feel as if they don’t have to choose between their sexuality and their interests,” said Shafer, 22.

But Diaz was lucky; he didn’t have to face that kind of decision.

Last year, when he was a junior, Diaz said he felt comfortable officially coming out at Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s weekly meeting.

All of the men responded by clapping and congratulating him, Diaz said.

“Overall, people will not judge their friends,” he said.

One of Diaz’s fraternity brothers, Tim McCarthy, said he was surprised when Diaz came out but did not think any less of him.

“He’s gay, but he’s still the same person,” McCarthy said.

Diaz said he thinks that even if he had rushed openly gay, he would still be in the same fraternity.

“After getting to know all of the guys I feel like they would look beyond [my sexuality],” he said. “Times are changing, and our culture is becoming more accepting.”


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