It seems doubtful that a social-scene savior will appear anytime soon for the majority of social malcontents on campus. But for young gay men, new social options are popping up everywhere. This year, officers on the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters’ Alliance (BGLTSA) are aiming to strengthen the social community for gay students on campus, according to BGLTSA Vice-Chair Timothy S. Caito. On Oct. 28, students crammed into Winthrop House’s Tonkins Room for a game of Queer Jeopardy, and just this week, members of the organization plastered the campus with posters for their fall dance.
However, some gay men have social outlooks that are not always tinted crimson. A small handful of those students have been attracted by a little-known social institution across the river, a special fraternity formed especially for gay students.
In 1986, a group of college guys unhappy with the superficiality of the Washington, D.C. gay scene founded Delta Lambda Phi. Twelve years later, a similar frustration with local gay life compelled eight area students to bring DLP to Boston. In 2001, they finally received an official charter, establishing the Alpha Chi chapter. Alpha Chi currently consists of eight active members, six pledges and six involved alumni, hailing from Boston University, MIT, Tufts and several other institutions. The national organization now has 20 chapters, concentrated primarily in the Northeast and on the West Coast.
A key motivation behind forming Alpha Chi was the members’ ambition to create a gay social alternative to Boston’s clubs. The brothers agree that gay clubs are not the best places to form lasting friendships. In fact, they’re pretty terrible when it comes to developing close bonds. “Sometimes I get frightened,” says Dobres, speaking of his experiences at the local clubs.
“You do get groped a lot,” says Casey Giovinco, DLP’s president, a junior at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. “While you’re just standing there or dancing, someone will come up out of nowhere.” But Giovinco is quick to point out that the carnal agendas of most clubgoers don’t diminish his love for the nightlife. In fact, he tries hurriedly to shush DLP pledgemaster Doug DiPietro, a recent Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate, in mid-sentence when DiPietro describes the clubs as “somewhat sleazy” and “not the most reliant source for meeting quality people.”
“I’m trying to get funding from these clubs,” Giovinco explains.
The fraternity brothers actually go out often, they say, but they supplement club life by organizing a wide variety of informal events that focus mainly on building long-term friendships. Every Wednesday night, the brothers hang out at Fritz’s, a bar in the South End that Giovinco lauds as “an extremely sympathetic establishment.” The brothers also meet for lunch and dinner a few times a month.
The brothers of DLP all agree that their activities help them cope with the negatives of gay social life. “The words ‘gay community’ are an oxymoron,” says vice-president Jon Dobres, a B.U. sophomore. “The prevalent gay scene in Boston tends to be lacking,” DiPietro says. “People think that the common stereotype of the gay man represents the majority of gay society.”
The brothers say that the organization’s emphasis on fellowship counters the tendency of the gay community to splinter into cliques. “All of these different communities are under our umbrella,” DiPietro says. “We’re inclusive of everything. We don’t promote a certain type of gay person.”
The chapter’s website proclaims that all brothers must be between the ages of 18 and 40 to pledge, but it does generously add that if someone is “hovering around 40,” he can come let the brothers get to know him and they might make an exception. The website also states that the fraternity will “never discriminate against anyone based on ethnicity, religion, physical appearance, money, sexual orientation, political beliefs, or how flaming or butch you are.” They assure closeted men that their secret remains safe with the brothers, although it does warn that any gay organization will create some visibility for its members. The only group entirely excluded from membership is women. Yes, that means straight men can pledge. “DLP was founded by gay men for all men,” Dobres says.
BGLTSA Co-Chair Stephanie M. Skier ’05, who is also a Crimson editor, says the fraternity’s policy of not taking women seems to counter many of their aim of being accepting to a large swath of the gay community. “I definitely have my own beef with this fraternity and I’ve ranted about it in various contexts,” Skier s says. “I don’t know what their policy on transgendered members is, but my notion is that they would probably not include a transgendered female member in their club as a male.”
Giovinco insists he wants the fraternity to be a place where men can feel at ease to reveal their true identities. “One thing that is hard for gay men is that you’ve been put into the closet until you’ve come out,” he says. “It’s hard to be real with people because you’ve been taught not to for so long.”
The brothers praise the organization for opening them up to friendships that they would probably have not considered in their pre-fraternity days. “I was well-established with the gay community, but I wanted a deeper sense of community that didn’t revolve around clubbing,” Giovinco says. DiPietro agrees. “If I had met these people in a club or on the Internet, I don’t think we would be as close. This is a group of guys I can meet without expectations,” he says.
A few Harvard students have had some experience with the organization, though none have ever joined. Skier says this comes as little surprise, as she has heard very few students express interest in the organization. This year, roughly 10 Harvard students attended the fraternity’s introductory meeting, according to David B. Canose ’03. This was a substantial portion of the crowd at the event, as Canose estimates that only about 30 students attended.
However, ultimately none of the Harvard men ultimately pledged the fraternity. For many, this decision seemed to hinge on the demands of fraternity life. “I got an e-mail about [DLP] at the end of the summer and it looked promising, but I realized that it would be too big of a time commitment,” writes Zachary M. Subin ’03 in an e-mail.
One student in Mather House who wishes to remain anonymous carried his stint as a fraternity member slightly further, making it as far as mid-way through the pledge process. “The frat just seemed so removed from my life here at Harvard,” the student says. “There were no other Harvard pledges, all the meetings were across the river, and I often was leaving rehearsal only to jump on the T to go to a pledge meeting. The madness had to end.”
However, for many the madness never needs to begin, as the Harvard gay community has been successful this year in strengthening communal bonds. “I mean, a lot of the [DLP] events mirrored a lot of the activities we already have here at Harvard,” Conose says. “The gay leadership on this campus has done an incredible job this year, and it is really to the credit of those organizations.”
However the men of DLP stand ready to accept Harvard men who are intersted in the alumni connections and multi-campus dimensions of frat life. “It would be a great way to break out of the Harvard scene,”Dobre says.
Some members of BGLTSA argue the Harvard gay community is far from insular. Andrew C. Karas ‘03, the organization’s treasurer says the BGLTSA keeps strong ties with the greater Northeastern gay community. “The important work of [Laure E. “Voop” de Vulpillieres ’02] is still with us,” he adds. Vulpillieres wrote her senior thesis on how Harvard’s chapter of BGLTSA could be strengthened.
As things improve at Harvard, Karas and others still say they are happy to see a panoply of social options available for Harvard’s gay community. “The gay community here doesn’t speak in a monolithic voice,” Karas says. “Socializing and social aspects of the community are inevitably going to be more important to some people than to others. Options are good.”
they are to others.important that the mechanisms are in place so people can explore what interests them.”