Greek Allies debunk stereotypes

By Courtney Klemm

It would be extremely unusual to hear people ask each other questions like, “How long have you been heterosexual?” or “What do you think caused your heterosexuality?” It might even be considered ridiculous for someone to say to a parent, “Studies show that more than 95 percent of child molesters are heterosexual. Do you consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexual teachers?”

Points like these are just what members of Greek Allies are trying to get students on campus to consider during presentations about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Greek community.

“We get a lot of people to say ‘Well we really haven’t thought about it that way before,'” said David Stefanski, sophomore in LAS and vice president of Greek Allies.

Greek Allies, a student organization that educates members of the Greek system at the University, was started a year ago by Kevin Hauswirth, senior in LAS. Hauswirth created the group in response to an instance of violence toward one of his gay friends.

“A friend of mine in a big house (at the University) was doing speaker panels for human sexuality classes about homosexuality, and his roommates found out and assaulted him,” Hauswirth said. “That’s how I had the inspiration to start it. It was hard to start; it’s a hard community to bridge.”

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Hauswirth said he originally felt Greek Allies could be a support group for LGBT people in the Greek community, but with the help of several of the members has realized that the organization can also make a big difference through educational programming and facilitating workshops for fraternities, sororities and other groups on campus.

“We are a facilitator for dialogue in situations, like if a chapter member comes out,” he said. “The focus can be what to do if someone comes out, is already out or just general diversity education. It is very typical for Greeks not to come out until graduation, so we could focus on Homecoming and the possibility of a homosexual alumni.”

Greek Allies is not an activist group or program, Stefanski said.

“As the number one Greek community, we have enough stereotypes as it is, and among those stereotypes is homophobia,” he said. “It is useful not only to the Greek system but other aspects of life. You’re going to know someone gay in life, whether you like it or not.”

Curt McKay, director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns, said he has been very impressed with the efforts of Hauswirth and the other leaders of Greek Allies.

“This wouldn’t have happened without coming from within,” McKay said. “I was so amazed when he came to talk to me about the idea. The fact that Greeks are running this and campaigning for it means it’s really going to work.”

During their presentations and workshops, Greek Allies cover a number of topics surrounding LGBT people. They discuss myths about homosexuals, read first-hand accounts of people dealing with sexuality and facilitate quick games in order to help people realize the discrimination many homosexuals face.

Greek Allies also caters to a certain situation if needed and discusses effective communication if a chapter member were to come out or is out.

“The Greek system has extreme influence on campus, and many members are looked at as role models and leaders,” said Rayna Schaff, freshman in LAS and member of Greek Allies. “We’re just raising awareness that some people feel they can’t be comfortable in their own houses, and they shouldn’t be feeling that.”

Hauswirth said he has had students from other schools talk to him about the idea for the group, such as the University of Colorado, University of Michigan and Duke University.

“I am confident that the group will spread,” he said. “There’s a growing awareness in the Greek community and a growing need. We don’t talk about gay marriage, adoption or civil unions. Our focus is on fraternities and sororities and their members. Is it really a brotherhood or sisterhood if they have to hide their true selves?”

McKay said he feels the information students are learning through the Greek Allies presentations and the difference it is making in the Greek community will carry on after they leave the University and into their future jobs and households.

“Greeks have the reputation, or have had the reputation at least, of being very hostile or unwelcoming toward LGBT,” McKay said. “That’s beginning to change.”