By Chelsea Langley, Chattanooga, Tenn. —
When people think of frat guys, they think of young men who roam campus wearing salmon shorts and T-shirts that advertise Greek letters. They are notorious for loving women and parties. Needless to say, the word “gay” doesn’t come to mind.
Preston Gray and Riley Yates are openly gay fraternity members at UTC. They are the only openly gay members in their fraternities and have both, for the most part, had a positive experience.
Gray is a sophomore in Kappa Alpha Order. He waited to tell his fraternity members that he was gay so they could get to know him first, and win them over. He wanted to avoid any immediate judgment. Two days after he got his bid, the president of the fraternity and another member texted him and said that they wanted to talk to him for a minute.
“I immediately knew,” said Gray.
They found out he was gay by looking at his social media, where they found pictures of him and his boyfriend. Gray knew that they would find out this way because fraternities are known to go through potential members’ social media. He believed that it would delete the awkwardness of having to tell them.
“They were really awesome about it,” said Gray. “They were concerned for me because they were afraid that other fraternities would make fun of me. It wasn’t like an argument at all, they were on my side 100 percent and they just wanted to talk about it so it wasn’t just a picture on Instagram.”
They also asked him why he wanted to join a frat if he was gay.
“I told them I wanted to change people’s perspective, to change the stereotype on gay people,” said Gray. “ I don’t like being gay, but if I’m going to be, I might as well use it to my advantage and change people’s perspective. It’s the coolest thing ever when you can change someone’s view 180.”
For example, before Gray was initiated, he heard that a couple of people were saying things like, “If we initiate him, I’m dropping,” or “I don’t want that in this fraternity.” One student in particular was the worst for saying things like this.
“I ended up taking a class with him and he got to know me, and now we’re really good friends. That’s kind of the whole thing; to change people’s minds, to change the perspective of it,” said Gray.
Yates is a freshman in Lambda Chi Alpha. He went through recruitment week, got his bid and didn’t tell anyone that he was gay.
For weeks Yates was terrified and all he could think about was coming out to them. Based on the stereotype of what a fraternity is, he was afraid of being beat up or cast out. He was worried that he would have to drop or be dropped.
A month after he got his bid, at one of the meetings to learn about the fraternity, Yates thought that now would be the perfect opportunity to tell them because everyone was there and it just felt like the right time. He was terrified.
“It was honestly one of the best things I have ever done because I wasn’t expecting the amount of support,” Yates said. “It was amazing to see these big straight guys come together and give me a hug. We were all crying. It was a really good experience.”
Yates would like it to be easier for other fraternity members who are in the closet to come out. He spoke with the executive council and it’s something they are planning to work on.
Both Kappa Alpha Order and Lambda Chi Alpha are Christian based fraternities. Kappa Alpha is 100 percent Christian and Lambda Chi is Christian-based, but members don’t necessarily have to be Christian to join. Some people might argue that a gay person shouldn’t be in such fraternities.
“For some reason people think that if you’re gay then you must be an atheist. No, I’m a Christian. I go to Bible study every week and I go to church,” said Gray. “In my opinion, God isn’t going to say, ‘You were almost a perfect human, but you were gay, so to Hell you go.’ What logical sense does that make?”
Gray and Yates both say that they don’t currently experience any homophobia at all. They are just one of the guys. The only thing that is different is that a couple of people are more hesitant to talk to them.
“Some might be hesitant to start a conversation with me because they are afraid they might be hit on. Some might think of it as a disease, like you can catch it,” said Yates.
“There are people who aren’t mean to me, but just don’t acknowledge me. They fade me out,” said Gray. “It’s their loss if they want to be that kind of person.”
A big fear that Gray and Yates had, was the fear of trash talk from other fraternities. Fraternities are known to make jokes about other fraternities, and they were both afraid that they would come up in these jokes. Thankfully, nothing at all has been said from another fraternity.
“I honestly believe that a gay person could come to rush at any of the fraternities at UTC and be completely okay.”
Both Gray and Yates love their fraternities and would not want things any other way. They know they made the right choice with their decision to join, and would like to encourage other gay people that are interested but too afraid, to give it a shot.
“I just want other gays to know that there are people to talk to. I am one that will always be available if someone wants to talk about it. I don’t want people to think they are alone because being alone is one of the worst things,” said Yates.
“More gays don’t join because they think that people are going to shun or judge them, when in all reality they are probably not,” said Gray. “A lot of people who only knew me for three or four days were taking up for me. You might have people that bring you down, but you’re going to have people that are really awesome that defend you even when they don’t know you, and those are the most awesome types of people.”