When Wesley Unger arrived at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and joined Pi Kappa Alpha, he was not open about his sexuality. He only just came out as gay to his fraternity at a meeting seven months ago.
While he was never discriminated against within PIKE, which he left in November 2017, Unger said he didn’t feel like he fit in with the other members.
“I felt like I had to be a different person [with the fraternity],” he said. “I didn’t really click with any of them. Not everyone fits into every group and that was just the case for me.”
Many students, including Unger, have had to deal with being LGBTQ in a fraternity or sorority. While there is still progress to be made, several houses at UNL have initiated these individuals with open arms. Unger said he received applause when revealing his sexuality to his fraternity brothers, though he did notice some discomfort.
“I just don’t think people were really ready for it,” he said. “It was kind of uncomfortable for a lot of them, and I don’t judge them for that. I’m probably not the typical gay guy they’ve met.”
Unger’s ability to look and act outwardly straight while in his fraternity is one of the reasons he didn’t face any discrimination from other members, he said.
“Being gay is OK in a fraternity, but living the gay [lifestyle] is not really acceptable,” he said. “The way I act now, a lot of people would think I was too weird or too extra. I totally get that, I’m living a totally different life.”
Unlike Unger, senior actuarial science major Cassie Pyle said she has never regretted joining Phi Mu, a sorority that has been accepting of her sexuality since day one.
“I think that everyone in Phi Mu is very unashamed of being who they are,” she said. “It’s very refreshing to be with people that don’t try to fit a cookie cutter.”
Pyle said being in a sorority has been a positive experience, allowing her to embrace her femininity. She said after she came out at the age of 13, she was very much a tomboy, unaware that she could be a lesbian who presents and acts in a traditionally feminine way.
“If you were a woman who was attracted to other women, you were very masculine,” Pyle said. “That shaped how I dressed and acted in high school.”
Phi Mu President Maddie Hilbert said their chapter is the most diverse on campus.
“I’ve never met more women that are more inclusive, more supportive, more encouraging than the women I know in Phi Mu,” she said. “Even though our values might unite us, it’s our differences that make us stronger.”
Pyle, who came to UNL after graduating from a high school where she was bullied, said being on campus has been a positive experience. When interacting with students who aren’t familiar with the LGBTQ community, she said they are more curious than judgemental.
On the other hand, junior management major Connor McManigal said when he came to UNL, no one else knew he was gay, which is something that scared him as a freshman pledge in PIKE.
McManigal rushed during his first semester, but dropped out of Greek life before being initiated, despite getting along well with the fraternity. After coming out to his parents over winter break, he regretted his decision to leave and rushed again the following semester.
“I think that [second] semester was a very defining semester for me as a person and for me in PIKE,” he said. “I didn’t really come out to anybody then, but I was finally becoming a lot more comfortable with myself.”
McManigal is a strong advocate of being true to oneself and said that while he is a gay man, he’s also someone who wants to be involved with Greek life and should be able to do both.
“Why can’t you be both of those things?” he said. “If you want to do something, go do the damn thing. Who’s going to stop you?”
Like Unger and Pyle, McManigal said he has never faced discrimination over his sexuality, within PIKE or the Greek system. PIKE External Vice President Trent Hoppe said the fraternity has a cultural understanding of the strength that comes with diversity.
“Something I really admire is that we’re able to join in on conversations about what we believe is right or wrong but we’re able to put those things aside and come together,” he said. “A brother is a brother.”
McManigal said a combination of being comfortable with himself and PIKE’s condemnation of discrimination is what enables others to be comfortable around him.
“Think about a time you had a conversation with somebody [who] is super awkward and uncomfortable,” he said. “You might not be an awkward or uncomfortable person, but when you can tell they’re a little bit uncomfortable, you get uncomfortable too.”
McManigal said the Greek system as a whole is very open to the LGBTQ community, although they may not be heavily involved. As a gay man, he said he doesn’t believe it’s the obligation of the Greek community to get involved with the LGBTQ community because the groups are two separate entities.
- Connor McManigal, junior management major
While Unger, Pyle and McManigal are proof of “LGB” individuals in the Greek system, the “TQA+” component seems to be lacking, according to Pat Tetreault, the director of UNL’s LGBTQA+ Resource Center. She said the biggest issue currently is that the system is not designed for those who don’t identify on the gender binary.
There are sororities, such as Alpha Chi Omega, that nationally allow transgender women to join. However, Tetreault said people who don’t identify with their given gender, or any gender, run into legal issues.
Under the Trump administration, they have to prove they’ve gone through a physical transition by providing a form signed by a physician.
According to Campus Pride, which provides guidelines for Greek houses looking to become trans-inclusive, an inclusive policy is one stating that self-declaration alone is sufficient. This means legal or medical documents are not necessary to verify gender status.
The information provided by Campus Pride and the LGBTQA+ Resource Center is important for everyone, but individuals and chapters have to seek out that information, Tetreault said.
Pyle said for many students, discrimination comes not from a place of judgment but one of ignorance. She said it would be helpful if the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life enforced more educational points about overcoming personal biases.
“A lot of people that come to UNL and join Greek life are from a small town, not very exposed to different identities,” Pyle said.
McManigal, however, said it is the responsibility of individuals to educate themselves on LGBTQ issues.
Either way, Tetreault said people have to want to be educated. She said people don’t always think LGBTQ information applies to them, but they need to realize the importance of learning about those from whom they differ.
“There are LGBTQA+ identified everywhere,” she said. “We’re in people’s families, we’re in your schools, we’re in faith communities, we’re at work. The more accurate information you have, and the more able you are to be comfortable around LGBTQA+ people, the better off you are.”