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Fraternities and Sororities  
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Glbtq students are involved in both traditional Greek-letter societies and in gay-oriented fraternities and sororities.

Although many gay and lesbian groups have gained acceptance on college campuses, one area in which openly glbtq students continue to experience discrimination is in the generally conservative Greek system of fraternities and sororities. A large proportion of gay and lesbian students who are members of traditional fraternities and sororities are closeted.

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Studies have shown that most gay fraternity members stay in the closet for fear of reprisals from their fellow brothers in the fraternity; however, while some exceptions exist, when lesbian and bisexual women have come out to their sorority sisters, reactions are generally more positive and supportive.

Traditional Fraternities and Sororities

Fraternities are male college student societies formed primarily for social purposes, into which members are initiated by invitation and occasionally by a period of trial known as hazing. However, the practice of hazing has become restricted or prohibited entirely on most college campuses today.

Fraternities are usually named by two or three Greek letters; they are therefore also known as Greek-letter societies. Women's Greek-letter societies are commonly known as sororities.

The typical Greek-letter society generally owns or rents a house on or near a college campus that is used as a residence hall for members and as a center for social activities. Some fraternities and sororities have only one local organization or chapter; others are nationally organized with chapters at several institutions.

Research has demonstrated that fraternity and sorority life has both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, students in Greek-letter organizations tend to exhibit higher levels of involvement in other campus activities. Individuals who were members of sororities or fraternities also report being more satisfied than non-Greeks with their social development in college. Additionally, Greek involvement seems to lead to positive outcomes after college; Greek alumni are more likely to engage in civic and volunteer activities and are also more likely to donate money to charitable causes.

On the negative side, Greek-letter organizations have been criticized as sexist and exclusionary, and of not living up to the values of the institutions of higher education of which they are a part. Greek-letter organizations have also been criticized for failing to contribute in a positive way to either the personal or academic development of their members. Areas of particular concern for sociologists studying the Greek-letter system include alcohol abuse, eating disorders, gender roles, sexual coercion, and insensitivity to diversity.

Gay and Lesbian Involvement in the Traditional Greek-Letter System

Many gays and lesbians, similar to straight men and women, join traditional Greek-letter societies because they are looking for close friendships and want to belong to a group of people with whom they can share their experiences. They may have a strong need for connection and wish to belong to a nonsexual, same-sex bonding environment.

Experts, however, suggest that some homosexuals join fraternities and sororities because they seek validation that they are not really gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Joining a fraternity or sorority, organizations noted for reinforcing traditional gender roles and behaviors, can be one strategy to prove that they are heterosexual.

Although many national chapters of fraternities and sororities provide educational programs on highly publicized topics, such as hazing and alcohol abuse, few provide materials on homosexuality. Most do not even mention sexual orientation in their ethical codes. Currently, there are no national policies on in the Greek-letter system. Only a handful of more progressive fraternities, such as Sigma Phi Epsilon or Zeta Beta Tau, have added sexual orientation to nondiscrimination clauses in their bylaws.

Studies have shown that members of the Greek community are more likely to have an anti-gay bias than members of the non-Greek community. In a 1996 national survey sponsored by the Association of Fraternity Advisers, more than 70 percent of gay and lesbian members of Greek-letter societies surveyed reported homophobic attitudes within their chapters, often in the form of derogatory jokes or comments. Some gay and lesbian members said they even joined in the anti-gay attitudes and rhetoric to mask their own sexuality.

Many gay and lesbian members of traditional Greek organizations report that their chapters would not invite a student to join the society, or allow a pledge to continue, if that person was discovered or believed to be gay.

The fear of losing friendships or being kicked out of their fraternity if they come out looms large for gays in the Greek system. And gay-bashing gives homosexual members even more reason to stay closeted.

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