Gay fraternity welcomes all

It’s Rush Week for Delta Lambda Phi, but no one seems to be in a hurry to join.

The predominantly gay fraternity, which started last fall at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is struggling to boost its membership to full chapter status by this summer’s national convention.

It needs at least a dozen members for that classification. So far, it has seven. And only three students have shown an interest in rushing.

Organizers stress that the fraternity is open to heterosexual men, even though all of its current pledges are gay.

“When I first heard about it, I was concerned about it being a gay frat,” said Scott D. Smith.

Smith, 19, said he had “plenty of gay friends” but few in school.

He had not considered joining a fraternity but figured it would be good to have another social outlet, one with friends who were serious about academics and philanthropy.

“It’s nice that years from now, you’ll still have people you can rely on,” said Smith, a freshman. “These are people I’ll always have a connection with the rest of my life.”

Delta Lambda Phi is the nation’s first and largest gay fraternity with 19 chapters and eight colonies.

It was founded in 1986 by three men in Washington who wished there had been such a group when they were in college.

While the fraternity is based at SIUE, membership is open to any college student in the St. Louis area, including those attending community college or vocational school, said President Christopher Miofsky, 20.

So why has it been so hard to find recruits?

It most likely has to do with the stereotypes surrounding the idea of a gay fraternity, Miofsky said.

“There are people out there who think we sit around, drink beer and have sex with each other,” he said.

Instead, Delta Lamba Phi is like any other Greek organization focused on philanthropy, academics and kinship, he said.

Mike DeMoss, the fraternity’s vice president, said the fraternity took great effort to protect the privacy of individuals who have not told friends or relatives that they are gay.

“Our brotherhood provides a niche for men who may want a Greek experience in college but who may be reluctant to rush other fraternities for fear of hazing, discrimination or having to come out,” he said. “Joining this type of fraternity, there isn’t any risk.”

John Davenport, Greek Life coordinator for SIUE, said it took courage for individuals to be associated with Delta Lambda Phi.

“I know it isn’t exclusive to gay or bisexual men, it’s open to what they call progressive men, but the reality is, I don’t know how many straight males are all that progressive here at that age,” he said.

“We really want to see them do well,” he said.

“We don’t have a large Greek population here to begin with so people don’t necessarily go rushing out looking. You have to go looking for them.”

And Delta Lambda Phi members are still searching-even extending their “Rush Week.”

DeMoss said he was much happier and more confident since pledging.

He said the fraternity also provided him with the support he needed to come out to his parents last fall.

DeMoss considers the other members of the fraternity “not just a group of friends, but a real group of brothers. We just mean that much to each other.”