No longer the domain of alpha males, college fraternities have come a long way since a toga-clad John Belushi smashed the guitar of an effeminate folk singer while on "double-secret probation" in the 1978 movie classic "Animal House."
Just this week, New York University became the latest college campus to create a chapter of Delta Lambda Phi, the only national fraternity founded by gay men for all men, according to the organization's Web site.
With 24 chapters nationwide and 10 more colonies waiting in the wings for official status, Lambda is the fastest-growing fraternity in the United States with about 2,100 members, according to Randy Hubach, Delta Lambda Phi's national vice president for outreach.
Lambda offers all the rituals and tradition of a classic fraternity -- including restricting the membership to men -- but with what its members say is a socially open mind. Membership is open to "gay, bisexual and progressive gentlemen," and also straight men.
The term "gentleman" does not conjure up those puerile Hollywood fraternity brothers Bluto Blutarsky and Otter Stratton, who waged a drunken war against Dean Vernon Wormer as he tried to shut down the fictitious Delta House -- the "Animal House." The movie, set in 1962, was based on screenwriter Christopher Miller's experiences at Dartmouth College's Alpha Delta Phi fraternity.
Lambda's legacy, on the other hand, rests with an elderly gentleman with a distinguished moniker -- Vernon L. Strickland III, Esq. -- who founded the fraternity in 1986 with 24 members, pledging to create a Greek organization that did not discriminate against sexual orientation.
The NYU chapter, with 11 members, forbids hazing and incorporates an "education" rather than a "pledging" process that requires new recruits to know the fraternity's mission, memorize the Greek alphabet and learn Robert's Rules of Parliamentary Procedure. By offering fraternity brotherhood to gay men, it "breaks boundaries," according to chapter president Matt Maggiacomo.
The fraternity's mascot is the centaur, adapted from Greek mythology as the essence of masculinity -- the Lambdas' version depicts a younger, clean-shaven man-horse with short hair. The fraternity motto is "Lambda men are making their presence known," and the Toast Song is "Once There Was a Mighty Man."
"When I came to NYU the last thing I thought I would ever do would be join a fraternity, never mind start one," said Maggiacomo, now 21 and a senior from Rhode Island. "There are so many negative stereotypes. If Bluto Blutarsky is the absolute ideal of the model frat boy, we are the antithesis."
Maggiacomo got involved in fraternity life two years ago. He and his fledgling brothers spent 18 months proving to the national organization and to the university that Lambda would be a productive and progressive organization. It was finally promoted from colony to fraternity chapter status in March after submitting a 60-page document that outlined its mission, created a budget and undertook several community service projects.
During its trial period, the fraternity volunteered at the Ali Forney Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender homeless youth. It also tutored students at New York City's Harvey Milk gay high school, ran an auction to benefit abused women and children, and organized oral HIV testing in the dorms.