above photo_david dial > A group of FIU Delta Lambda Phi brothers gather for a photo op at their school.
The tagline says it all: “College. It’s a rush.” The ABC Family show “GRΣΣK,” which premiered in 2007, has reached the hearts of students across the country who identify with all the comedy, and drama, of college life.
But the show isn’t just beloved in sorority houses. “GRΣΣK” has also received acclaim from LGBT groups and activists for its portrayal of Calvin, a gay college student and fraternity brother played by Paul James.
While “GRΣΣK” is not the first television program to deal with being gay in college, it presents the issue without much of the dramatic angst found in other shows. Calvin is a confident, well-adjusted college guy in the strongest fraternity on campus. His brothers know that he’s gay. His sexuality is a visited topic on the show, but it is hardly the focal point. He has normal relationships, normal problems, and very few of his peers seem to object to his sexual orientation.
This poses an interesting question: Is this show and this character a representation of Greek communities across the country becoming more accepting and progressive, or is “GRΣΣK” throwing keg parties in the future? It has been estimated that 10 percent of men in traditional fraternities are gay. So who are they, and what are their stories? Distraction spoke to current and former members of UM fraternities and other Greek systems to set the record straight.
- THE CAST of ABC Family’s “GRΣΣK” gets a chance to relive college life while acting on the show. photo_ABC Family
While Calvin enjoys life on “GRΣΣK” as an openly gay frat guy, he didn’t get there by himself. Exposed accidentally by his friend Ashleigh in one episode, he had previously kept his sexuality to himself and a few close friends. And he’s not the only one who chooses to do so.
“I didn’t feel that it was necessary. No one came up to me and said ‘I’m straight,'” joked one UM student, who asked to remain anonymous, on why he chose not to come out to his fraternity. Another said he assumed “everyone just knew.”
Both believed they had been occasionally gossiped about by their brothers, but they agreed that the subject had not come to anything more than that: gossip.
Representatives of UM fraternities are quick to dispel any claims that their organizations are anything less than accepting.
“I think a person’s sexual preference should not be a determining factor in whether or not he or she is accepted into the Greek community,” said Taylor Morrow, acting recruitment chairman of fraternity Sigma Chi. “As Sigma Chis, we pride ourselves on having different temperaments, talents, and convictions. We are accepting to diversity within our fraternity.”
Ramon Galiana, president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, echoed Morrow’s sentiments. He said he could not see any reason to avoid taking a gay rushee “as long as he is, like our motto, a ‘true gentleman.'”
Galiana also said he believes that despite occasional behavior that might indicate otherwise, members of his fraternity and possibly other fraternities, would continue to treat a brother the same way if he decided to come out to the chapter.
“Yeah, brothers make gay jokes, but I think they would be accepting if a brother came out. It’s the same brother. He’s still the same guy. The fact that he revealed something so personal shows that he is trusting of the chapter,” Galiana said.
Although none of the fraternity representatives who were asked said they knew of any openly gay members of their fraternities, one representative, who asked to remain anonymous, said he knew of brothers who had come out to a few people but not the entire chapter. He said he believed their reasons for not coming out “were more personal than related to the fraternity.”
For a multitude of reasons, many gay fraternity men choose to keep their sexual preferences private. At the same time, there is a growing movement of gay fraternity members who have decided to come out to their straight brothers – or find gay ones.
This was the idea behind Delta Lambda Phi, a national social fraternity for gay, bisexual, and progressive men founded in 1986 and one of the fastest growing fraternities in the United States.
The DLP chapter at Florida International University is currently home to ten active brothers and six pledges, led by President David Dial. Like any social fraternity, DLP engages in philanthropy (Care Resource, South Florida’s oldest and largest HIV/AIDS service organization), socials, and brotherhood events.
Dial, who is currently assisting in the beginning stages of setting up a DLP chapter at UM, said it took time before the Greek community at FIU fully accepted DLP as a fraternity.
“Now a lot of people here are pretty accepting,” said Dial of his campus. “The other fraternities and sororities enjoy our company.”
The chapter is part of the Interfraternity Council with other social fraternities.
In addition to the challenge of gaining acceptance from other traditional Greek organizations, DLP at FIU also had to gain acceptance from the area’s large Hispanic population.
“There was a ‘machismo’ attitude with the Hispanic male population at that time,” Dial said, adding that he believes the situation has improved over time.
To those who would argue setting up an all-gay fraternity just lends itself to further separation between the traditional Greek community and the gay community, it is important to note that DLP makes it clear that it does not discriminate based on sexual orientation. Straight guys are in, so long as they “respect the diversity of all individuals,” as described in the fraternity’s founding purposes. DLP also strives to “lead in determining the rights and privileges of individuals in society.”
As far as the UM chapter, Dial said it is still in the works. “There is currently an interest group. Hopefully within a year or a year and a half, there will be an affiliated chapter.”
So what does this mean for young men looking to rush fraternities in the future? Are gay students better off in gay fraternities?
“I would say it always depends on the individual,” Dial said. “The reason why we’re in [DLP] is that we have common experiences: common problems like coming out to parents, boyfriends and being discriminated against. It allows us to be closer together and gives us more of that brotherhood kind of feeling.”
In all these different scenarios, one word is constant: brother. There seems to be an overwhelming consensus. Gay or straight, like it or not, brothers are family, and the letters adorning t-shirts, frat houses, and beer kozies are as permanent and powerful as a last name.
Catching Up With Paul James
Distraction had the opportunity to get in touch with Paul James, the actor who plays Calvin on the ABC Family hit TV show, “GRΣΣK.” Although not gay himself, he was able to tell us about what it’s like playing a gay fraternity brother, how real college differs from fictional Cyprus Rhodes, and how much he loves The U.
Distraction Magazine: You were in a fraternity in college. Do you ever feel like the plot follows your experiences? Or on the other hand, do you ever say, “This isn’t how things would go?”
PJ: Every experience is different, and every generation is sort of different. As you go to different parts of the country, things are different, so we don’t ever compare it. It’s a pretty good representation, but it will never feel like the experience that I had.
DM: Was your chapter like Omega Chi, or did you have another reputation on campus?
PJ: No, not really. I think it changes every few years. New people come there and the house changes, and that’s the good part. I don’t think any house on my campus was like that – it was much more relaxed than Omega Chi.
DM: From the perspective of a college student, the stories and the characters all seem very genuine and relatable. How do you make that happen?
PJ: It’s the writers. There’s a lot of people in the network who were in fraternities and sororities, and they try to make everything as authentic as possible and make sure they’re not exploiting the Greek system. They do a really good job. At the end of the day, it’s about brotherhood and sisterhood and how you’re treating other people.
DM: Obviously, you play Calvin, who is a gay character and out in his fraternity. I know in earlier interviews, you said you hadn’t gotten much feedback from the gay community about this role. Has that changed? Have you heard more?
PJ: I’ve heard what people are saying, and it’s still an interesting process. On the one hand, it’s really nice, and it’s really cool to play a role that changes perceptions. But on the other hand, I still want to play a character. I want to be a character, not just representative of something. He’s a 19-year-old kid, and that gets lost a little bit. There’s a lot of pressure to be a lot of things for different people in the LGBT community. I’ve been doing it for 3 years, so it’s a well-oiled machine by now.
DM: Do you think or hope that your character sets an example for guys who are in his shoes?
PJ: I think he does. It’s not necessarily a personal goal of mine; it’s more the creator, Sean. Being an actor, I like to do different things. I hope the role continues to change and evolve so that Calvin can do different things and be part of the campus as a whole and not in his own little storyline.
DM: It seems like for the most part, people are pretty accepting of Calvin and he has been fairly open with his relationships. Do you think the show ever goes too easy on him- like if he were at a real college, he’d have to deal with more intolerance?
PJ: Oh, completely! I think it’s completely too easy on him, especially because he’s a new member of the fraternity. From my experience, if he were a senior, it would be easier for him than if he were a freshman going in. The perfect example is the first kiss Calvin has with Michael, which seems unrealistic to happen at a huge party. It seems like I’m always making out with other characters at a huge party. I understand the pictures it paints, but it seems a little unrealistic. It is showing the utopian part of society and what is hoped for and what society should move to. It’s definitely a hard topic to deal with. Some people just aren’t comfortable with it. It seems that people who are homophobic are not around LGBT people and what changes is when you know someone as a person and you say, “Hey, they really just are like me.”
DM: What did you think about the fact that Calvin didn’t actually come out to his fraternity by his own choice but rather was accidentally outed by Ashley?
PJ: I just think he didn’t want to come out when he was pledging. He wanted to give people in the fraternity a chance to know him as Calvin before they knew him as gay Calvin.
DM: It seems like for the most part, Calvin is the stable one on the show, the voice of reason. Do you agree?
PJ: That’s the part where he becomes a 30-year-old man. For better or for worse, that is part of this character. That doesn’t bother me, but sometimes, with giving advice to characters that are older than him, I think he needs to represent a real person and get in situations where he needs advice and can be a kid. I think the show will keep going in that direction and make Calvin a real well-rounded character. I think we’ll get there.
DM: Do you have a favorite episode of the show?
PJ: I like the one that’s airing tonight [9/14/09, “The Half-Naked Gun”] because it’s really funny. There are shout-outs to “The Matrix” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” I remember laughing a lot when I saw it. I like the episode called “Let’s Make a Deal.” [9/9/08] I like the episodes where everyone is interacting together but has their own little stories. That’s when the show is the strongest, and those are the most fun to film because we all get to hang out.
DM: Can you give a little preview of other things we might see with your character this season, without giving anything away, of course?
Calvin’s character this season is basically just trying to have a relationship with Grant in the fraternity. Since he has already been out, he doesn’t really want to go back in the closet, and Grant doesn’t want to come out of the closet.
DM: After your experience on the show, what else can you say about Greek life and its acceptance of the LGBT community?
PJ: I think it’s sort of one of those things that’s not going to be solved overnight. It takes understanding. The young guys growing up now who in ten years are going to be in a fraternity, they will see portrayals of LGBT characters not being stereotypes, just being their own people. It will slowly change, and when they get into fraternities, it won’t be as big of a deal as when I was in a fraternity or when their parents were in fraternities. That’s why what Sean, the creator, is doing is so wonderful.
DM: Thank you so much for answering these questions today.
PJ: Of course, you know you guys had a great game last week. I watched the whole game. Someone from Florida State tried to interview me and I said, “No, only The U.”