I was not in a fraternity in college. Nevertheless, I was popular, a student senator, football broadcaster, sports editor, disc jockey, and most of all a champion partier - all the traits of a straight college boy. Except I wasn't one. At least not outwardly.
And I most definitely was not at a fraternity party.
But for two students who attempted to attend a fraternity party at the University of Memphis, being outwardly gay - or for being gay - or perceived to be gay - or rumored to be gay - was a detriment. The wrath of some of the fraternity boys' bigotry barred the two students from simply having a good time and being themselves.
Threatening behavior still exists on college campuses toward the LGBTQ community, forcing many to remain in the closet, despite tremendous advancements since I was in college. Hopefully, progress continues, and one day brings to an end to the era of macho frat boys and closeted gay guys.
I'm an adjunct professor at a college in New York City, and am open with my classes about my sexuality, something that I never dreamed would happen when I was younger. Among my students are athletes and frat boys, and at least outwardly, to me, my sexuality doesn't seem to rankle them so much.
Is it because I'm the professor and they're afraid of getting on my bad side? Is it because I teach in an urban area like New York City? That they enjoy my football banter and loyalty to the Pittsburgh Steelers? Or am I just lucky to teach great guys?
We can't just brush a broad stroke and label all frat boys and athletes homophobes. There are some good men among their ranks. But, for those few who are fervently antigay, they represent one of two coins depicting two very different double lives of some frat boys and gay men on college campuses.
On one side of the hate-filled frat boy coin, you have those who conduct themselves well in classes, and around campus, but when they are with their brothers and their peers, particularly at parties, that coin drastically flips, revealing ugly conduct. How many more stories do we have to read involving hazing's gone wrong? About women being assaulted?
And while we're learning about the incident at the University of Memphis, how many other gay students have been denied access, not just to parties, but to a secretly non-inclusive fraternity that might have among its ranks those who sinisterly mock, degrade, vilify and sissify gays? The frat brothers' baleful behaviors revealed when no one else is listening and watching. Hiding behind the veneer of bloodshot bricks, a bravado of brotherhood, and bastions of bravery.
What's not a veneer is the bravery of Ben and Luke who spoke up and condemned the behavior at the University of Memphis frat house. But sadly, they are probably an exception to the rule. For most closeted gay men on campus, there exists a different coin.
On one side, for example, is the shield of a football broadcaster, sports editor, student senator, the gregarious partier, and on the other the shield of seclusion - a closeted gay student who doesn't dare reveal his true nature for fear of being shunned by peers, and at parties. These quietly gay men continue to hear about the stinging news of incidents of bigotry, hate crime beatings around campuses, and tragic, devastating suicides of gay college students. They remain afraid.
When I look back at my college years, while they were fun-filled and achievement-driven, they were also times that were wrought with tremendous fear, pain, and worry. They were also complete with raging frat boys who drank to excess, habitually fought and mouthed off - to a degree that deep down, I always felt ashamed, and most of all threatened. What if they knew I was gay? I look back thinking that if my secret was revealed, they wouldn't just deny me a party, they might have denied me a life. So, I sacrificed the truth for a future.
We live in an era with greater acceptance of LGBTQ individuals, particularly among those still in college and high school. We now have prom kings who are gay, prom queens who are drag queens, and prom queens who are simply proudly gay.
We have out collegiate athletes, student leaders and gay fraternities; however, in some cases our openness hits a wall, and those walls are those brick-lined frat houses that sit forebodingly on the edge of college campuses and on the edge of our nerves.
They can still deny. They can still hate. They can still threaten.
We're lucky that our community can celebrate the bravery of Ben and Luke, and others who are stepping out and calling out outdated odium. Continued exposure and coming forward can help erode the luster of the two coins.
Thus, we can only hope that someday there is less loose change in the antigay frat boys piggy bank and less coppers in the closeted gay penny rolls.
John Casey is a PR professional and an Adjunct Professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.