Nation’s first gay fraternity starting Indiana chapter

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009
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The nation’s first exclusively college-based gay and gay-allied fraternity is expanding for the first time beyond its original ASU chapter.

Sigma Phi Beta, which launched at ASU in 2003, is preparing to open its second chapter at Indiana University in 2010 where sophomore Joshua Thomas has begun the process to create the second nationally recognized chapter of the organization.

The organization’s goal is to establish five chapters, which is the amount necessary to join the North-American Interfraternity Conference, Thomas said.

However, establishing five chapters has proven to be more difficult for a gay fraternity than a non-gay-allied fraternity, he said.

“Of course … there is some hesitation. It’s a new idea,” Thomas said.
Sam Holdren, an ASU alumnus who was a member of the founding chapter, is now the director of communications at Sigma Phi Beta’s national headquarters in Tempe.

“I remember first coming on campus, getting involved in the LGBT community, helping to start up the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Coalition at ASU … protesting in the student senate and getting snickers from people in the audience, just at the words ‘LGBT,’” Holdren said. “The campus shifted after that.”

Members of other Greek organizations have changed in their attitudes toward the fraternity as well, he said.

“I think a lot of other Greeks are more open now than they were before,” Holdren said.

Of the many Greek organizations at ASU, Peter Haslag, president of ASU’s Delta Upsilon fraternity, said Sigma Phi Beta brings diversity to the table, adding that Greek life at ASU has been very accepting
“Some guys don’t feel like they would have a place in a regular fraternity … I think they might get treated differently, and this is an opportunity for them,” Haslag said.

The fraternity has offered an opportunity for gay students to take part in everything Greek life has to offer, without feeling uncomfortable or having to hide their sexual orientation, said Michael Begay, the current president of Sigma Phi Beta.

“A lot has changed since I was a pledge,” he said.

The organization won Chapter of the Year at ASU in 2007 and 2008 for the ASU Greek Life Awards and has become very involved in community service.

The organization hit another milestone last Monday when it initiated its 100th member, Holdren said. He attributed the growing number to the unique opportunities for gay men to be themselves within the Greek community.

Thomas said that wanting to become involved in Greek life, but doubting whether he would be comfortable in a traditional Greek setting, was his motivation. He contacted Sigma Phi Beta’s national headquarters to begin the process of establishing a chapter at Indiana University earlier this semester.

Thomas will have to show that he is able to recruit people to join the organization and demonstrate they can be successful at that campus, he said.

“We want to have a comfortable place for everyone of every sexual orientation,” Thomas said.

The fraternity is also open to straight students who are gay-allied, and Thomas said he hopes to have allied members to create a bond and break down segregation between the Sigma Phi Beta fraternity and others on campus.

“There is always going to be some opposition to change … but we have had more support than opposition,” he said.

Thomas works with the Greek Life office at IU to garner support from alumni and students. The organization will hopefully enhance the student life experience for gay students and give them a chance to use philanthropy events to benefit the LGBT community, he said.

Haslag’s said the fraternity’s success at ASU is an example for future chapters.

“It’s definitely a different change, a different feel from traditional Greek life, but if you look at a university that’s larger than most, and see the success we have had at ASU, there is no reason they can’t have success there as well.”

Reach the reporter at anatwood@asu.edu.