Headline.. ? LGBTQ

When Ken Ditlevson graduated from Kent State in 1995 with his bachelor’s, being a gay man in a traditional fraternity was not something he considered.

Ditlevson, now the director of the LGBTQ Student Center, had limited options when he attended the university. There was only one LGBTQ group on campus, PRIDE!Kent, and there weren’t many members.

When he started his job at Kent four years ago, Ditlevson was “shocked” when he discovered Delta Lambda Phi, a social fraternity for gay, bisexual, transgender and progressive men, on campus.

“I hadn’t heard of anything like that,” he said. “I wish that would have been here for me because I didn’t feel like I fit into the pride group at the time.”

According to the official website, Delta Lambda Phi, or “Delphie” for short, was founded in 1986 in Washington, D.C. by gay men who were disappointed with the “limited opportunities for social engagement that were then available” to them.

The Kent State chapter was founded in 2000 and chartered in 2001. For 15 years, it was an active chapter in the university’s Greek life scene, hosting annual drag show fundraisers and educational events.

Ditlevson said he had high hopes for the organization when he started in his position, including possibly acquiring a chapter house.

In March 2016, Delphie’s “Green With Envy” drag fundraiser raised $2,243 toward an LGBTQ scholarship. By fall semester, the chapter had turned in its charter and left campus, according to Ditlevson.

However, the decline of Delta Lambda Phi was more of a slow descent than a cliff dive.

Dennis Campbell is the assistant director for Fraternity and Sorority Life. He joined the Center for Student Involvement in July 2016, right as Delphie was struggling to retain their charter.

Campbell said its demise was caused mostly by low recruitment  and a lack of interest in the fraternity.

“They had three or four members,” he said. “When I got here, Kyle [Dunn] was the only one that was really involved in doing much.”

According to Campbell, there were also issues with the Delta Lambda Phi headquarters and within the LGBTQ community. The headquarters rarely sent representatives to check on the chapter. Some groups on campus thought that the fraternity wasn’t doing enough for the rest of the LGBTQ community, and others accused it of being too “conformist.”

The Delphie decline was also likely sped up by the increasing inclusivity of other Greek organizations, he added.

“A lot of our groups have changed to make inclusion policies,” Campbell said. Sometimes those policies are implemented on a national level, he added, affecting every chapter and colony of an organization.

Isaac Yost, the Corresponding Secretary for Phi Gamma Delta, said that Kent State’s Greek organizations are adding those policies, too. The Phi Gamma Delta colony joined Kent this semester, which makes Yost a founding member.

“I think a lot of the fraternities on campus, especially [Phi Gamma Delta], are trying to be a space where anyone can go and feel accepted,” Yost said. “We are trying to foster that type of diversity and awareness — it’s something very important to us as we are establishing our chapter.”

Yost, who is gay, said that because he joined as a founding father, he feels that he and his brothers are able to mold the fraternity into an inclusive environment. Phi Gamma Delta has 15 members, of which three identify as LGBTQ.

For already-established Greek organizations, though, group traditions and values have already been forged. If those traditions are exclusionary, LGBTQ people may be discouraged from joining.

Miranda Marinello is a bisexual member of Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority and feels mostly welcomed by her organization, although she knows that not everyone can accept her identity.

When Marinello went through recruitment, sexuality wasn’t discussed, but she came out to her sisters after receiving her bid. She was mostly accepted by Tri Sigma, but she believes the system isn’t perfect.

“Although I feel very safe and accepted in my sorority, I can’t talk on behalf of everyone’s experience in a Greek life,” she said. “There’s always room for improvement on education in diversity.”

Panhellenic Council is attempting to further educate sorority women on the importance of inclusion. On Wednesday, the council sponsored an LGBTQ sisterhood in collaboration with the LGBTQ Student Center.

Ditlevson spoke to sorority members about the community, inclusive language and how to be better allies. He also shared personal stories about his youth.

“This event has always been discussed by [Panhellenic], and I always thought it was an important subject not many people consider in Greek life,” said Natalie Perfette, Panhellenic Council Vice President of Programming. “I think programs like this can really help our community stay together and become allies with one another.”

If LGBTQ students are experiencing harassment, in a Greek organization or otherwise, Ditlevson said the LGBTQ Student Center is a safe space to talk, even if they don’t want to complain formally.

“Some students just don’t want it to happen,” Ditlevson said. “And they don’t want [the perpetrator] to go to court, but they want them to say, ‘you know, if this happens again, you could get yourself in trouble.’”

If a student does want to report an incident, he said that someone from the center will walk them to the Office of Compliance and make sure they feel safe.

Although the LGBTQ Student Center helped over 5,000 people last year, Ditlevson said only four incidents of harassment have been reported through the center in his four years at Kent. This number may be misleading, he added, because many students do not report harassment and discrimination for fear of retaliation.

At the “LGBTQ Sisterhood” event on Wednesday, Ditlevson told the audience there are members of sororities and fraternities that come to him anonymously because they are not out to the rest of their chapter.

As Kent State takes steps to become more inclusive, such as expanding employee healthcare benefits to include transgender people, Greek life seems to be taking the same route.

As far as Delta Lambda Phi is concerned, it’s possible for it to come back. Dennis Campbell said organizations that turn in their charters will sometimes wait a few years before attempting to recolonize. Delphie may come crawling back from the cliff.

For more information on the LGBTQ Student Center or resources available to LGBTQ students, visit the website.

Hana Hodali is the Greek life reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

Regan Schell is a reporter for Fusion, Kent State’s LGBTQ magazine.