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Keeping the lambda in the Greek alphabet.

The nation's only gay fraternity celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, while its lesbian counterpart struggles with dwindling membership

Those who think Greek campus life revolves around beer-drenched toga parties or pearls-and-lace high teas never joined the Bitch Clique or doffed their shirts in a Dyke March.

"We have a bit more flair and camp, says David West, national trustee for Delta Lambda Phi, explaining how the nation's only gay fraternity differs from fellow Greeks. The group celebrated its tenth anniversary this summer at a national convention in Atlanta, where the so-called Bitch Clique, a quintet from the Atlanta chapter, reportedly made history as the first drag show to play the Carter Center.

Meanwhile, members of Lambda Delta Lambda, the nation's only lesbian sorority, exhibited attitude of their own--and a bit of skin--this summer at San Francisco's annual Dyke March.

Traditionally, openly gay and lesbian coeds haven't been well-represented among campus Greeks. Leaders of Delta Lambda Phi predict that's about to change, however. "You will see more and more [chapters] as tolerance grows among the heterosexual community," says Peter Colohan of Washington, D.C., vice president of Delta Lambda Phi, which boasts 250 members, 700 alumni, and 17 chapters nationwide.

The fraternity's founder, Vernon Strickland, formed the organization as a reaction to what he perceived as the superficiality of gay male bar culture. He says he wanted to provide a social setting devoid of cruising. "In general, people who are interested in [cruising] or do not have the character to belong ... the process weeds them out."

The fraternity isn't just for college men, although they make up its core membership. Delta Lambda Phi has no hard-and-fast requirements except that members be gay or gay-friendly, committed to the ideals of brotherhood and community, and willing to go through the traditional rites of passage. For example, pledges are required to host a "night of madness," a theme party for the other members. The eight-week pledging period is devoid of hazing, according to the fraternity's leaders.

Both the fraternity and sorority have rules against pledges dating members during rush. Once members are active, they're allowed to date. "We joke about it all the time," Colohan says. "It's an enormous topic of humor, but we have to avoid the impression of being a sex club. We get people who approach us with that in mind, and we make it very clear that that's not what we're about."

Gay Greek life does offer its own versions of Animal House antics, however. The University of California, Davis, chapter has an annual "Davis Is Burning" drag extravaganza at Halloween and crowns a Queen of the Ag Fields. But while a Delta Lambda Phi brother might don a party frock or enjoy a rowdy beer bust now and then, he'd be just as likely to work on the traffic-control crew for the East Coast AIDS Ride or visit sick kids in a hospital. The Sacramento, Calif., chapter hosts that city's annual International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and so far has donated more than $15,000 to charity in the festival's six-year history.

The women also blend a combination of service, companionship, and social activities. Lambda Delta Lambda has parties, sponsors speakers on campus, and volunteers at fund-raisers.

The sorority's only chapter is at San Francisco State University. Founded in 1988 the sisterhood once had chapters at the University of California, Los Angeles, and at. the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In explaining the sorority's dwindling numbers, President Beatrice Sanchez points to a lack of interest among lesbian students. "I think some ,people might be resistant to join just because it's part of the Greeks," she says, adding that many students accept as a given stereotypes about sororities' being superficial or exclusive.

Sanchez is somewhat less optimistic than Colohan when speaking about the future of the group, pointing out that the closet still keeps members away. "We set up tables to recruit members at the start of the semester," she says, "and they look at us, see the rainbow flag, and scurry away."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:gay and lesbian fraternities
Author:Bogues, Maureen
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Oct 14, 1997
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