Gay fraternity looks to battle stereotypes in Greek and Kent State communities

Heather Thomas

Delta Lambda Phi offers support system

Since February 20, 2000, members of Delta Lambda Phi have been breaking down barriers in both the Greek community and the LGBT community at Kent State University.

As a fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men, Kent State’s Alpha Psi chapter has offered a sense of family, a voice in the Greek community and a chance to grow into better men for all of its members.

“This chapter … has shaped me and made me more of a better person then I ever could have imagined,” Chapter President Sam Windler said with tears in his eyes. “I have had so much support here the last four years and sharing the experience with one another has been so profound.”

The beginning

Ten years ago, Kent State student Todd Mashlan became the founding president of the chapter, and began recruiting members for the Alpha class. Eric Van Sant attended what he thought was an informational meeting, but he found himself at the first annual induction ceremony.

“I always wanted to have a Greek experience, but I didn’t feel that at the time the ‘traditional’ fraternities would be accepting of me and my homosexuality,” said Van Sant, a Kent State alumni and a representative on the fraternity’s National Board of Directors.

“Once Delta Lambda Phi presented itself, I was attracted to the fact that I could enjoy the company of men who had similar interests,” Van Sant said. “We were able to supply a community service outreach that wasn’t just gay specific.”

Van Sant said the fraternity initially had trouble getting recognition because people had preconceived opinions of what a gay fraternity would represent.

“It’s a double-edged sword because you have a gay fraternity and people think, ‘sex club,’” Van Sant said. “In the gay community … we heard ‘conformist,’ and that’s not what Delta Lambda Phi is.”

As the “den mother” for Alpha Psi, Van Sant has remained in Kent and has worked with the guys to focus on their core ideals of commitment, community and family but it has not always been easy.

Hard times

The road to acceptance was trying, and as with many gay men, some of the members have been subjected to homophobia and occasionally more severe violence.

“We had members that were being verbally harassed in the dorms,” Van Sant said. “Brothers’ doors were kicked down while people screamed ‘faggot.’”

As time passed, and values and opinions changed, the fraternity members have experienced less hatred, but homophobia still exists.

“I think that almost every brother in the chapter has had to deal with some sort of gay bashing on or off campus,” said Windler, a senior psychology major. “But I think for the most part, once people find out that you’re gay it’s not as big of a deal as it was 20 years ago.”

In times of violence or cruelty, Van Sant said the fraternity has served as a system of support for those involved.

“With the fraternity, all of a sudden there was a network that these people felt protected and they felt they had an advocate that would stand up and speak for them,” he said. “People ask ‘do you think Delta Lambda Phi is still necessary because the gay issue isn’t as big of a deal?’ Yes it is.”

In 2001, the infamous spray-painted rock on campus was smeared with anti-gay graphics and comments, and members of the Alpha class saw first-hand how hatred can look.

Since then, the fraternity has developed in a positive way, and the men have gone from seeing slander on the rock to painting the fraternity’s letters on it in celebration of their 10-year anniversary.

Van Sant said Kent State has encouraged the fraternity’s acceptance, it should be acknowledged for ”the role that they’ve played in allowing and supporting the chapter.”

“The university was always dedicated to what Delta Lambda Phi could bring in terms of diversity to the Kent State community, specifically to the Greek community, but also in general,” he said.

The fraternity has immersed itself into the Greek community and has accepted the traditions. Meanwhile, the Greek community has evolved and begun to accept the progressive fraternity.

Being Greek

With only eight active members, and without a lettered house to congregate, the fraternity struggles to be seen and recruit new members, but the men strive to be involved in the Greek community.

“We definitely want to be a part of the Greek presence on campus, and we love to be involved as much as we can,” said Chris Clevenger, the fraternity’s secretary. “It’s just that certain things are harder to get involved in, but we love to help out when we can.”

The fraternity votes in Interfraternity Council, and IFC President Matt Fabinak said it is “perfectly acclimated to Kent Greek life.”

“They bring a diverse group in contact with a very traditional Greek system. A big part of college is meeting people who you wouldn’t necessarily associate with,” said Fabinak, a junior finance major. “They’ve taught acceptance and not to let personal feelings get in the way of accepting someone or becoming close with them.”

The fraternity has a delegate at IFC meetings, and that person votes on current topics and contributes to decisions made for the community.

“Being a member of IFC, we’re able to be at the same table, and all of those representatives see a face to Delta Lambda Phi, and that face brings a sense of human to the fraternity,” Van Sant said. “It breaks down those misconceptions and prejudgments and they start to understand the individual as a human, and when you do that it becomes very pervasive.”

The fraternity has succeeded in the Greek community by winning Songfest and earning highest new member GPA.

“In five years, it won’t matter that Delta Lambda Phi is a gay fraternity because those new freshman or student body will see that Delta Lambda Phi is just a normal part of IFC and is involved,” Van Sant said.

The fraternity contributes philanthropically through its two foundations, Violet’s Cupboard, which is a program for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and Townhall II, which promotes the health and wellness of young people.

The brothers hope to increase the number of members and emphasize that Delta Lambda Phi is a fraternity “founded by gay men, for all men,” as Clevenger said. They want to bring in more straight men to continue their diverse membership.

“I think people feel like ‘I’m not gay, I can’t join,’ but we try to push that that’s not the case,” Windler said. “People may understand that they can join, but fear the stigma of this fraternity and having other people question their sexuality.”

Trae Ruscin, a close friend of the members, said the fraternity serves as a “vocal part of the LGBT community that is really big on education.” The brothers bring security to the gay community by being an integral part of the Greek community.

The fraternity has embraced Greek life and has big plans for the future, but now they are surrounding themselves with the 10-year anniversary celebration.

10 years and counting

The fraternity has made a name for itself at Kent State despite setbacks, and the brothers look back on the past 10 years with a sense of triumph.

“Looking at our history nationally, for a chapter that came in as Alpha Psi did to have continually operated for ten years, that’s a major mile stone for us,” Van Sant said. “By taking hold of the principles and really implementing them in everyday life, they’ve been able to persevere.”

Working as an “acquired family, rather than a biological one,” as Ruscin said, the brothers have been able to grow and defeat odds.

“It’s a really big step for the Greek community and for everybody to become accepting,” said Ruscin, vice president of PRIDE!Kent and a senior general studies major. “Delta Lambda Phi is a big part of that and they have been for 10 years.”

Clevenger said the importance of family is extremely prevalent, and the brothers work together to carry out the fraternity’s unofficial motto, “Alpha Psi will challenge you,” which pertains on multiple levels.

“We’re the smallest fraternity on campus right now, but what we lack in numbers we make up for in family,” he said. “Once you’re a brother, you’re a brother for life.”

Van Sant has worked with Delta Lambda Phi chapters throughout the country, and he said the men of Alpha Psi have contributed nationally more than some of the oldest chapters, and they have made their mark in the organization.

“I’ve had the distinct pleasure of watching the growth of the young men from this chapter,” he said. “The skills that they bring and the mindset they learn is amazing.”

Fabinak said the first 10 years are the most important because it is when the fraternity sets the tone for the rest of its existence. He said, “they can only go up. They just have to constantly try to make themselves better.”

“Our chapter (Sigma Nu) has been here since 1949 and we’re still trying to get our traditions set,” he said. “I can only imagine some of the struggles that they’ve had to go through.”

Ten years ago, the successful existence of a fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men was almost unfathomable. Because of the members’ continual hard work and dedication, the fraternity has flourished in the gay community, the Greek community and the community at large.

“The (brothers) are the stewards of the legacy that I once helped to start, and they will then pass that legacy on to the next legacy,” Van Sant said. “My whole purpose in the fraternity is to make sure that Delta Lambda Phi is still here for that young man who has yet to have found us.”

Contact Greek life reporter Heather Thomas at

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