Gay men form a new kind of fraternity

When most students think of fraternities, scenes of wild parties and scantily clad women from movies such as “Animal House” and “Old School” come to mind. In popular culture, fraternities are often viewed as organizations concerned almost exclusively with beer, sports and sex. As stereotypes are frequently challenged, Delta Lambda Phi, the nation’s oldest and largest gay fraternity, is helping redefine Greek-letter life for thousands of men.

And if things go according to plan, they hope to redefine Greek-letter life for at least a handful of GW students by establishing an on-campus group.

Modeled after collegiate Greek-letter organizations, Delta Lambda Phi has a formal pledging process, an official song, a crest, a fraternity pin and a motto: “Lambda men are making their presence known.” Like traditional fraternities that participate in community service projects, Delta Lambda Phi brothers volunteer at food banks, help with cleanup projects and work with the homeless, said GW alumnus Scott Roberts, president of Delta Lambda Phi’s D.C., or Alpha, chapter.

Delta Lambda Phi’s D.C. chapter is community-based, meaning that it is an all-ages fraternity that accepts students, graduates and local residents.

The group is currently trying to establish a presence on campus. They are holding a series of rush events in the coming weeks to generate interest among students. First, they must have five members and register as a student organization. The group can later petition the Interfraternity Council to become a recognized Greek-letter group, said IFC President John Och, a junior. Because Delta Lambda Phi is a unique group, its members do not follow the same protocol as other Greek-letter groups trying to establish a GW chapter, Och added.

Georgetown Law School graduate Vernon Strickland III founded the organization in D.C. in 1986 to provide a constructive social outlet for men regardless of their sexual orientation.

In the past, traditional fraternities were unfair to gay men, said Roberts. Some of Roberts’ Delta Lambda Phi fellow members were kicked out of their college fraternities when members discovered they were gay, he said.

Dozens of gay rights groups have since sprung up on college campuses as an outlet for these students, but such organizations fail to offer the “honest friendship” that fraternities provide, Roberts said.

“The bond of brotherhood goes deeper than your typical student organization,” Och said. “It’s a far more enriching experience.”

Although the organization does not have many older pledges, there are a few 40-year-old members.

“They are just as wild and crazy as the rest of us,” Roberts said. He estimated the age range of brothers to be about 18 to 46.

Roberts said the Alpha Chapter is a “wide mix” of brothers from different ethnic backgrounds. Delta Lambda Phi is also not exclusively a gay fraternity, welcoming bisexual and “straight, but not narrow” men as well, Roberts said.

Although there are no heterosexual brothers in the 23-member Alpha Chapter, straight men have joined Delta Lambda Phi in the past because they appreciated the sense of community and friendship that existed in the fraternity, Roberts said.

Delta Lambda Phi has about 1,500 members in 22 chapters nationally. In addition, there are nearly a dozen emerging chapters, or colonies, at colleges such as Iowa State and the University of Missouri.

The fraternity’s leadership has been in discussions with administrators since last fall about starting a group at GW and ultimately gaining University recognition as a Greek-letter organization. GW would be the first university in the D.C. area to recognize the group.

Dean Harwood, director of GW Greek Life, contacted Delta Lambda Phi last semester to talk about setting up a chapter after seeing one of the group’s flyers on campus.

“I think it will add to the overall well-being of the Greek community,” Harwood said.

If Delta Lambda Phi becomes a student group, it will be able to reserve on-campus meeting spaces and be eligible for the same benefits as other student organizations, Harwood said.

While there are no active GW students in the Alpha Chapter, a large percentage of the brothers are GW graduates, said Roberts, who joined Delta Lambda Phi during his freshman year at GW nearly eight years ago.

While Delta Lambda Phi welcomes all interested students to attend its free rush parties and meet the brothers, rushing does not necessarily guarantee receiving a bid, Roberts said.

Delta Lambda Phi is wary of potential pledges who attend rush parties hoping to find romance. Delta Lambda Phi describes itself as “nonsexual” and was partly founded as a move away from the sexually charged atmosphere of the gay scene, according to the organization’s Web site.

“This organization is not for hooking up,” Roberts said. “We keep track of who has showed up just to get laid.”

Because most of Delta Lambda Phi’s members are gay, the group faces a problem traditional fraternities probably don’t often deal with: relationships between members. Though there is a “hands-off” policy prohibiting romantic involvement between a pledge and a member, brothers may date among themselves.

As far as hazing goes – brutal initiation procedures often associated with Greek-letter organizations – there is no need for it within the group.

“There’s enough discrimination and judgment from other people; there’s no need to haze anyone,” Roberts said.

Rather, during the seven- to 10-week pledge process, brothers educate the pledges on the organization’s history. Pledges take a trip together and plan weekly outings.

“We teach them about the values of the frat and build up a sense of brotherhood,” he said.

The spring rush will gauge whether or not there is an interest among the GW student body. The first rush event of the spring semester is Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Remington’s, a nightclub in southeast D.C.

Och said that Delta Lambda Phi will likely receive recognition, adding that any expansion to the Greek community “can only be positive.”

Och said that the Greek-letter system, like GW, is progressive-minded and that Delta Lambda Phi would be well-received.

“At GW we preach diversity a lot,” Och added. “But we back it up.”

-Caitlin Carroll contributed to this report.

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