Last year, UT was ranked as the second least friendly college campuses towards members of the LGBTQ community by the Princeton Review. In looking at UT’s relationship with the gay community, it’s important to think about all aspects of the university to understand this ranking. So, we look to fraternity life.
Fraternity life has been a part of UT since at least the 1870s and has since been considered a pillar of masculinity and tradition. But in the 150 years since then, have those traditions changed at all or are the parameters of fraternities at UT still as traditional as they were? Is fraternity life at UT accessible and welcoming to the LGBTQ community? How are gay fraternity brothers treated at UT?
Elijah Ramsey, a senior majoring in marketing, is a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. He also spent two years working as the organization’s social chair. Ramsey spoke about his experiences as an openly gay man in a fraternity.
Ramsey said that he was encouraged to rush by someone he had dated in high school, and though he felt anxious at first, meeting other gay people in fraternities made him feel more comfortable.
Ramsey did acknowledge some homophobic sentiments by other fraternities, even those that wanted to diversify and include more LGBTQ-identifying people into their organization.
“While there were fraternities that were commending us and asking us how to do what we were doing, there were also fraternities that — I don’t know if I would call it animosity — but they definitely didn’t think well of us because of the fact that we had gay people,” Ramsey said.
However, Ramsey spoke positively about his experiences, saying that he felt safe and at home at Pi Kappa Phi and has felt mostly welcomed during his experience. He said that it made him feel more comfortable that some fraternities already had LGBTQ members.
“It was that level of comfort that I had, it just felt safe. And then once I had joined there weren’t many times that I felt like I shouldn’t be there,” Ramsey said.
When asked about any advice he has for any out, gay men wanting to join a fraternity, Ramsey said that the best thing to do is choose the fraternity where you feel most comfortable.
“You’d be holding yourself back if you don’t. I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school that were guys that were straight, but I joined this fraternity and suddenly I realize that college is a different place,” Ramsey said. “I would have had a completely different life here if I had not rushed.”
Brandon Meyers, a junior double majoring in finance and statistics, is a member of Phi Kappa Tau, and spoke about his experiences as an out, gay man in a fraternity at UT.
“My personal experience in joining Greek life has been overwhelmingly positive. I think for organizations that have always been portrayed as very exclusive, I’m surprised how inclusive they actually are. I’ve met a lot of my best friends through Greek life,” Meyers said.
When asked if he felt any animosity or homophobia from members of Greek life, Meyers said that, like Ramsey, his experiences have been mostly positive.
“I feel like it’s a common misconception that Greek life is inherently homophobic. Yes, there have been some instances where I have felt unwelcome by certain members in Greek life but never by Greek life as a whole, or even an organization as a whole,” Meyers said. “My brothers have never treated me differently than one another and have always had my back in uncomfortable or unwelcoming situations.”
Meyers also gave advice to those that are looking to join a fraternity and spoke about the importance of being your true self during the rush process.
“If you are anything but yourself during rush, you’ll feel anything except a sense of belonging after rush,” Meyers said.
In exploring how the gay community intersects with Greek life at UT, it’s clear that there is a space for gay men in fraternity life. As time continues to pass since the beginning of UT fraternities in the 1870s, it’s easy to see that Greek life is not the exclusive — or homophobic — place on campus it once was.