|By: Austin Maas||December 16, 2016||Community, Featured||179 Views|
Every fairytale must have three things — a princess, a villain and, of course, prince charming.
That image is the standard among love stories, but for many members of the LGBTQA community, that image does not apply to their stories.
When University of Idaho sophomore Reagan Miniken first began to question her sexuality, the traditional love story seemed like unfamiliar territory to her. Like many other LGBTQA Greek students, it wasn’t until she joined her sorority, Kappa Delta, that she found space for her own story.
“It was difficult for me in the beginning. I grew up watching Disney princess movies and realizing that that might not be what I want for myself was a big struggle,” Miniken said.
As a bisexual woman, Miniken said she always knew she wanted to join Greek life when she went to college, but as she came to terms with her sexuality she began to question whether it was the right choice for her.
“There was a time where I wavered on it,” Miniken said. “It was partly because of my sexuality — I didn’t know how people would respond.”
Initially, she said she worried whether or not there would be other girls like her in the Greek system. But Miniken is not the only LGBTQA person to have these concerns. For LGBTQA students, there can be an additional layer of discomfort when considering Greek life.
Julia Keleher, director of the UI LGBTQA Office, said LGBTQA students and Greek students often face broad stereotypes of gender and sexuality.
“Both for sororities and fraternities, I think there are stereotypes that affect people negatively,” Keleher said.
She said gender stereotypes play a huge part in shifting people’s perception of Greek life. In many cases, cultural depictions in pop-culture create a mold of what it means to be a Greek student, which makes the prospect of fitting in more intimidating.
Keleher said the prominent stereotypes in Greek life are associated with either hyper-masculinity or hyper-femininity — but in reality, there are many different communities within that spectrum and people find their niche wherever they feel most comfortable.
“I myself am very masculine, and during my undergraduate years I had this preconceived notion that I wouldn’t fit into a sorority because I’m not girly,” Keleher said. “But the reality is that that isn’t how it works. There are plenty of masculine women or feminine men who fit into Greek life.”
During her four years as director of the LGBTQA Office, Keleher said she has seen the relationship between the two communities grow substantially.
“I think more and more people are coming out in their houses, so the climate is changing for LGBTQA students in Greek life,” she said. “The reality is that those students are fitting in and they’re figuring out a way to bridge that gap and create a comfortable community regardless of their identities.”
Despite how far the two communities have come, Keleher said more growth is still needed and she believes education is the key to breaking down frightful stereotypes.
“We continue to work toward blending the two communities in order to make life better for queer Greeks,” she said.
Keleher said she has successfully conducted education training sessions with Greek houses in the past and plans to continue to do so.
“Once you learn about somebody and talk about their identity, all that fear immediately falls away,” Keleher said.
Miniken’s positive experience stands as a testament to the progress Keleher spoke of, but Miniken said more issues might be present in a fraternity setting, where there are clear ties to masculinity.
However, Dominic De La Torre, a UI sophomore who identifies as a Hispanic gay male and lives in Phi Gamma Delta fraternity (FIJI), said his experience living in a fraternity couldn’t be more positive.
“I’ve never been uncomfortable with my sexuality because the guys have always been very accepting,” De La Torre said.
Before attending UI, De La Torre knew he wanted to join a fraternity and wasn’t worried about hiding his identity. He said the only resistance he encountered came from his own family.
“My family was telling me, ‘You’re not going to get into a Greek house because they’re all conservative jerks,’” De La Torre said.
He said his family’s statements were far from true and while he rushed, his sexuality wasn’t even a concern of his future fraternity brothers.
“When I was rushing FIJI, one person would talk to me about tennis, because I was a tennis player for eight years, and another person would talk to me about video games,” De La Torre said. “It’s about finding common connections within people, it’s not about saying how you identify and how people should see you.”
De La Torre said he joined Greek Life to be connected to the strong community it provides and his LGBTQA identity has done nothing but strengthen his connection to the house.
“I’ve found way more acceptance here than ever before,” De La Torre said. “Greek houses rush you for a reason. They tell you, ‘You’re a part of this fraternity for a reason. We want you because you are who you are.’”