Beer. Sex. And maybe Pot. Fraternities are very masculine organizations."
So says Wharton senior Joey Shapiro, a member of Tau Epsilon Phi. The stereotype of your typical fraternity is a familiar one: A vermin-infested house teeming with Miller-guzzling, Abercrombie-adorned meatheads that yell a lot while doing freakishly ritualized kegstands at Mardi Gras themed parties. The specifics vary; perhaps the lager of choice is Natty Ice instead of Miller Hi-Life, or maybe the brothers are distributing plastic leis for a Hawaiian Luau in the place of Mardi Gras beads. But there are a few constants: The beer is stale, the music is loud and every brother in the house appreciates the indisputable merits of a really short skirt.
That is, unless the fraternity in question is Delta Lambda Phi, Penn's newly chartered fraternity specifically targeted at gay, bisexual and progressive males.
"I rushed freshman year, but the frat scene is very heterocentric," says senior Eric Boschetti, one of DLP's founding members. "You know, you go to a rush event and there's Miss June sitting on your face."
Senior Bradley Breuer, another of DLP's founders who is currently inactive in the frat, echoes this sentiment. "I have been to fraternity parties where I was assaulted in a very negative, homophobic way. My freshman year, one fraternity boy came up to me and imitated anal sex on me. It was very offensive."
In the midst of Penn's largely heterosexual Greek scene, Carlos Sanchez, Eric Boschetti, Bradley Breuer and Luzerne McAllister decided to save themselves from a life of mainstream fraternities and established the Delta Lambda Phi colony in July of 2003.
On April 10, 2005, the national Delta Lambda Phi fraternity officially welcomed the Philadelphia charter of DLP as its 53rd chapter. The chapter currently has 14 active members.
Boschetti, who favors fashionably fitted t-shirts and happens to look a great deal like Clark Kent's long lost cheerleading brother, came out in the summer before his first year at Penn. However, as a member of the Penn cheerleading team, there was a significant amount of pressure to live up to conventional standards of masculinity.
"When I came to college, it's not that I was back in, but ... I guess it had a lot to do with the whole cheerleading thing. To be the only gay guy on the cheerleading team, when there's all this pressure to be a macho guy, I didn't want to be the guy to prove everyone right," he says.
DLP President Luzerne McAllister, who identifies himself as bisexual but rejects the idea of labeling a sexual orientation, had similar apprehensions when coming out during his freshman year.
"I just didn't know too many other people who were out," he says.
According to Breuer, prior to DLP's inception, gay men at Penn lacked a social organization where such isolated people could meet with a common understanding of a shared experience. Before establishing a community around DLP, most of the brothers socialized with people that were predominantly straight.
"One of the reasons our fraternity was founded was out of frustration with gay bars being the only place to meet people. And gay bars are just to go meet people, drink a lot, do drugs, hook up, have promiscuous sex. But there was a distinct lack of other positive outlets that are gay," he says. Breuer speaks quickly and with precision. Because DLP is still new, the founders are accustomed to promoting and describing their experiences with DLP. Like Boschetti and McAllister, Breuer's narrative is deliberate without seeming rehearsed.
To some extent, DLP is just like any mainstream fraternity lining Locust Walk, though they do not currently have a house. The members have embraced the traditional fraternity model. DLP has a rush and pledging process, and the resulting friendships create a closeknit group not unlike a family. Members enjoy the perks of being part of a national organization, from networking opportunities to relationships with a larger community.
However, the traditional fraternity also has elements of the heterosexual agenda inextricably tied up in its foundations. The institution is rooted in the belief that the relationships between brothers would automatically be uncomplicated by romantic or sexual attraction, purely by virtue of being single-sex. There are elements of patriarchy and hierarchy, and the idea of a solely "fraternal relationship" presupposes heterosexuality as a given.
"Fraternities are generally very conservative institutions. DLP is the exact opposite in so many ways. We've retained all the really special components of brotherhood, but we've rejected a lot of the patriarchy, racism, homophobia, hazing even," says Breuer.
That DLP at the national level maintains a strict no-hazing policy is not unusual for a fraternity, but the unanimous support by the brotherhood is, separating DLP from other Penn fraternities. Because males in the LGBT community are often the target of abuse and humiliation in everyday life, DLP strives to delete those aspects from the pledging procedure.
"We've worked very hard to exclude anything that could be construed as hazing, or unnecessary, from the process," says Boschetti. "The fraternity is a support network, so we want the pledging process to be a supportive process."
DLP differs from mainstream fraternities in other ways as well. The chapter is city-wide, and includes members that hail from Drexel, University of the Sciences and the Restaurant School. Although members must be younger than 25, DLP also has members that are not currently enrolled in school.
DLP also boasts a membership that is notably diverse in ethnicity, socio-economic class and even spans the spectrum within the category of queer males.
"For a relatively small number of people, we have a big chunk of the spectrum: we have the campy guy, the butch guy, the quiet guy, all that," says Boschetti.
"Every major social fraternity on campus has at least one member who's gay and out," says Kevin Rosencrance, a junior in Beta Theta Pi. "It's very accepting."
Rosencrance was openly gay when he rushed and pledged Beta, and has had no issues regarding tolerance within his house.
"I've had no trouble whatsoever," says Rosencrance through reflective aviator lenses. "The only concerns people have ever voiced to me have been, 'I don't necessarily understand it, but that doesn't mean I won't try, and I love you, man.'"
When asked whether DLP was a group that struck his interest, he replies, "No, never. I don't identify as gay per se, I identify as Kevin who just happens to be gay. I just don't need that, I don't need to put myself in a close knit community where others are like me."
eliot glenn, a fifth year senior formerly in Pi Lambda Phi, had a less pleasant experience with being in a mainstream fraternity.
"It made it really uncomfortable for me to be there, I didn't go back there at all last year because a member of the fraternity had issues with his own sexuality," he says, his voice playful. He is at once self-deprecating and grandiose. "We used to be friends and then he decided he hated me because I was a homosexual, and there were a couple other people there, and there was just that tension you know? And they tried to exclude me and I felt very unwelcome."
And the joke, according to glenn, is that "the whole pledging process is so homoerotic anyway. It's definitely closeted, I mean you hear about all these frat boys shtushing each other on the DL."
Like Rosencrance, glenn has no desire to join DLP. He says, ""I think fraternities are desperate enough, and when you add the desperation of the homosexual identity problems, it makes for a really pathetic organization. I could never join it because it would make me feel so bad about myself."
He pauses a moment, then continues. "Never. I mean never, ever. I think it's tacky. Gay people are so smarmy. A gay frat is probably a filthy place."
Although it may seem as if a gay fraternity is really a euphemism for an institutionalized orgy, for the brothers of DLP, the intent of congregation has nothing to do with sex.
"The point is in the purpose," says McAllister. "When someone from the outside sees 'gay' and 'fraternity' in the same name, they assume that we're coming together for the purpose of sexual relations, and that's just completely not the case."
DLP at a national level has regulations regarding relations between brothers and pledges to insure that the hierarchical structure is not abused. The "hands-off policy" forbids brothers to have any kind of sexual relationship with a pledge or a rush, unless that relationship is pre-existing.
"Sex based on dominance and power can be really destructive," Boschetti explains.
However, there are no official rules regarding relationships between brothers, and while facilitating a dating environment is not the stated mission of DLP by any means, relationships inevitably arise.
"The thing is, people that we give bids to and join the fraternity, we like them, so it's almost natural that you might be attracted to someone in the brotherhood," says McAllister. "But if something were to go wrong, if someone were to cheat on someone or something like that, there's a whole backbone of brotherhood behind it ... and we would all be like, 'You can't do that!'" He laughs. "It's kind of like a backup plan, there's a whole group of people that can catch you."
In addition to outside criticism, some members of the Philadelphia chapter of DLP also take issue with DLP's national policy that restricts membership to people who are biologically male. This guideline excludes members of the LGBT population that identify as male, but lack the corresponding anatomy, such as people in the transgender community.
McAllister understands the philosophy behind the regulations, but ultimately wants to open DLP's doors even wider. "I was shocked at my reaction that I didn't have a reaction when I first met a transgender person. I feel like the experience is different [from that of a gay male] ... but with that said, if someone identified as male, or if they're just into the culture of DLP, then you know, why not?"
Breuer takes a stronger stance on the question, and has written to the national board, advocating a more fluid notion of gender. "One of the major, major controversies when we were trying to do this was this idea that you had to be biologically male, when many members of our group really felt that was unfair. We want to make sure we're sensitive to all gender minorities."
DLP has also received criticism for perpetuating Penn's already segregated social structure. Tate Mill is a senior in Phi Delta Theta. He is well over six feet tall, with big blue eyes and a shock of white-blonde hair. He looks as All-American as they come.
Mill likes the idea of a gay fraternity but sees self-segregation as an unfortunate side affect of creating an organization with a specific target group.
"I think it's good, but I don't like the idea of people segregating themselves," says Mill. "The school segregates them, and then they go create their own housing, fraternity, whatever, and that just segregates them even more. I mean it's a great idea, they can come together and feel secure and comfortable, but at the same time it's complete self-segregation."
However, Mill allows that while his personal view is tolerant and accepting, there are aspects of conventional pledging that could make others uncomfortable, were there an openly gay member in the pledge class.
"There are parts where people get naked, which might make people feel uncomfortable on both sides, but it shouldn't be a huge deal," he says.
In terms of general feedback, Breuer says that the main issue DLP faces is being seen as separatists who abandon the problem of intolerance rather than working to change the system.
"As much as people wanted us to somehow infiltrate and join the straight fraternity and change them, there's something very intrinsically powerful about saying, 'I'm going to start my own thing, and they are welcome to join us. Don't force us to join them,'" says Breuer. "And you know what, if a straight man joined our fraternity, all the gay men would be so happy"