By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, The Towerlight
When Steve Crudele graduated high school, he almost immediately formed a niche for himself in the Towson community. He held a Student Government Association position, worked as a Community Center worker, and participated in several student organizations, all the while harboring what he said was his secret: he is gay. “I was over-involved,” he said. “I used it as a way to try and meet people, but not get close to them. I did it as a way to distance myself from reality.”
But Crudele avoided one aspect of campus life — he chose to distance himself from Greek organizations. He said he thought no one would give him a bid because of his sexual orientation. In his sophomore year, Crudele was made aware of Pi Kappa Alpha, a new fraternity on Towson’s campus that recruited brothers based on the principles that everyone is important and everyone has experiences to contribute. Crudele was impressed and secured a bid.
He returned home for winter break, still wrestling with the idea of revealing his true identity. But some news put his life in perspective: Sandi Vanderpool, his high school mentor, had cancer and would likely die within the year. “I found out she’d known that I was gay the entire time, but her yearbook message to me was to ‘live to free up my anxieties and live life and enjoy it,” he said. “I took that message with me, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it.”
More than a year later, Crudele took Vanderpool’s advice. The senior functions as an out gay man in his fraternity and formed the Greek Alliance Program, an organization designed to educate Greek community members about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. “We want this to be a nationally recognized benchmarking program,” Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Matthew Lenno said. “It is needed in the Greek community and the community at large. In general, I have seen many atrocities done toward or against students/people that are LGBT. I believe it is horrible to not be accepted for who you are and for people to pass judgment on others for what they believe on or what they feel about themselves.” Crudele said that PIKE has the most out gay members in fraternity life because the brothers uphold the idea that members should not be chosen based on their identity, but rather what they could contribute to the fraternity. “We were formed from a different angle,” he said. “PIKEs were brought from different parts of campus, and since we all came from these different areas, we bred a more accepting environment.” Those values are what originally attracted Crudele, he said, as well as PIKE Vice President and Jon Lagnese, who said two of his closest friends and brothers identify as gay. “Education is limitless,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from them, proper terms, things that annoy them about the heterosexual community, judgments and how that hurts them.” Lagnese said that sorority members have responded well to the Alliance’s attempts to educate those in Fraternity and Sorority Life about LGBT issues, but most fraternity members have yet to participate on a large scale. “We’re open to everyone,” he said. “It’s like other chapters are recognizing the alliance … but they’re not taking part. The Greek community could grow more if people took part in it.” Dan Hirsch, president of Phi Sigma Kappa and executive board member of the Greek Alliance, said he tries to influence his brothers to attend Alliance events and that other chapters have not been as respectful of the organization. “Because I’m the president, they respect everything I do,” he said. “When the Alliance had aworkshop, 10 of our members showed up to it – the other chapters not so much.”
Hirsch said that PIKE isn’t necessarily the only “diverse” fraternity on campus. “To be honest, it’s not [PIKE] making great strides,” he said. “I would say it’s because two years ago, anybody who wanted to join that fraternity could. I wouldn’t say it’s not so much recruiting a diverse community as having diverse people sign up two years ago. You can pinpoint that on recruitment. I think my fraternity is pretty diverse, too. Every fraternity is diverse in some shape or form.”
Not everyone is accepting in PIKE, though, according Justin Schwendeman, a gay sophomore who rushed PIKE his freshman year, but said he refused the bid because of the underlying hostility he felt from his pledge class. “Beforehand, I heard PIKE was all about not drinking and all that stuff,” Schwendmenan said. “But then going through rush, it seemed like a lot of different groups I can describe as like an all-boy’s school, where it was very divided,” he said. “The pledge class didn’t seem open to it because they didn’t know me. But all the PIKE guys were all very open.” Towson’s Fraternity and Sorority Life needs to make major improvements in terms of accepting LGBT members, Schwendeman said. “I know for a fact that there are other guys in fraternities who are afraid to come out because they’re afraid of their brothers judging them,” he said. One of the missions of the Greek Alliance Program is to promote acceptance and assist other Greek members in the coming out process, according to Crudele. “It’s a cultural change that’s going to happen over time,” Crudele said. “If 10 percent of the population is gay, then 10 percent of Greek life is gay, and with 1,300 students in Greek life, that’s 130 gay members.” Crudele said he hopes to help others avoid the trauma that was his coming out. “We don’t expect people to just come out all over campus,” he said. “But hopefully we can change the attitude and make people feel more accepted, make them feel like the eyes of the world aren’t on them.”
The take away from this article should help you understand that we gain nothing by discriminating against the LGBT community. We should articulate a policy of non-discrimination and never denied the prospect of membership into our Fraternity/Sorority to an individual or expelled an individual based on their sexual orientation.
Not only is this a violation of our own national non-discrimination membership policy, but it also goes against the standards set forth by the majority of state and federal laws against discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. All BGLO members should believe that all persons regardless of age, sex, race, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation should be treated with dignity and respect.
Until we are willing to have a healthy and honest dialogue on this issue, we fail to uphold our Founders’ vision for a organization that services our entire community.
this article appears in its entirety, The Bulletin, November 2011 issue