A brotherhood for us

Delta Lambda Phi, a social fraternity created by gay men for all men, celebrates its 20th year.

BY Frank Mok

August 14 2007 12:00 AM ET

In a world that
values beer busts, hazing, and crass behavior, college
fraternities don’t come off as the most gay-friendly
of organizations. But Delta Lambda Phi, a national
fraternity for gay and bisexual men with headquarters
in Washington, D.C., is working hard to change that image,
and it celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.

A frat for gays?
It’s true, explains Randy Hubach, the
organization’s national vice president of
outreach. "Delta Lambda Phi, like most fraternities,
serves as a second family and brotherhood, networking
organization, and professional development organization for
our members,” he says.

Delta Lambda Phi
was the brainchild of Vernon Strickland III, who with
three wealthy benefactors created in 1987 the Alpha
chapter, the fraternity's first. “The
creation of a gay fraternity seemed a natural
extension of the movement towards increased
visibility,” says Strickland, now a prominent
attorney in the D.C. area. He explains that the LGBT
movement informed the fraternity’s mission from the
beginning.

“In 1986
the national political scene was dominated by Jerry Falwell
and his fundamentalist Moral Majority
organization,” says Strickland. “The
Reagan White House wanted gays to be invisible. Gay rights
or marriage was not even discussed, and although AIDS
was a known pandemic by that time, Reagan would not
speak the term 'AIDS' publicly [until 1985]. The
national gay movement was focused on the repeal of sodomy
laws, and [Georgia's Bowers v.] Hardwick
case was being taken to the Supreme Court; but the
court upheld the sodomy law by one vote.”

Then a
20-something Georgetown University law student, Strickland
acted as the informal legal counsel for a fellow
student who had been denied a membership bid from a
fraternity based on the presumption that he was gay.
After hearing similar stories from other parts of the
country, Strickland became aware of the pervasiveness
of behind-the-scenes fraternity procedures that kept
“gay” men—supposed or
actual—from receiving bids.

Under
Strickland’s direction, Delta Lambda Phi founded
itself on three basic principles: to provide dignified
and purposeful social, service, and recreational
activities for progressive men, irrespective of sexual
orientation; to lead in determining the rights and
privileges of individuals in society; and to promote a
strong and positive image as well as respect
of the diversity of all individuals, irrespective
of sexual orientation.

Twenty years
later the fraternity is still growing, with 26 active
chapters and seven colonies across the nation, including in
a handful of red states. The Lambdas pride themselves
on maintaining a strong social consciousness, engaging
in issues such as HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, the
homeless, and LGBTQ homeless youth. And they still have time
to party.

Like any
fraternity, the Lambdas battle the Greek stereotype.
“[People] think we are like Animal House
and Revenge of the Nerds: As either hordes of
beer-guzzling, insensitive morons or one of the last
remaining institutional bastions for elites. Neither
is accurate in the slightest,” says Adam
Williams, 22, a brother at New York University. They also
struggle with their image as the “gay frat.”
“As a fraternity for gay men, though not
exclusively [for gays], we have to combat two unique
misconceptions—that we're secretly a sex club, [and]
the enshrinement of gay stereotypes,” Williams
counters.

And responses
from other fraternities have often been less than
welcoming. “Oftentimes the fraternity structures on
many campuses are controlled by existing fraternities,
in an entity called an Interfraternity Council, that
are unwilling to share power and access with new
start-ups,” explains Dave West, a Lambda alumnus.
“On my own campus, when Delta Lambda Phi was
formed we sought admission to the Interfraternity
Council.” Yet even with gay members in other
fraternities, the Lambdas were denied membership.

And although
other campuses have been friendlier, there has been the
expectation that the fraternity wouldn’t last.
“The other fraternities were aware of our
presence but did not perceive us to be on a national
scale,” explains Hubach.

Despite these
setbacks Delta Lambda Phi has continued to grow. There are
over 2,500 active brothers nationwide, and the national
office has received almost 200 e-mails this year from
men interested in establishing a chapter at their
universities. Later this year the fraternity will
launch its first national public relations campaign,
Stand Together. The campaign hopes to encourage
brothers—whether current, alumni, or
pledging—to “stand together to help themselves
and to help their communities.”

With a bright
future ahead, “Lambda men are making their presence
known!” as the brothers' motto states.

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