Oct. 17, 2011 -- The University of Iowa may the site of the newest chapter of Delta Lambda Phi, a fraternity for gay and bisexual men, and their straignt allies.
The university will gauge student interest in opening a chapter at a meeting Oct. 25, but until then Kelly Jo Karnes, associate director of the university's Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, is confident that "all signs say yes, there is interest."
Karnes and her colleagues are encouraged by the success of a Delta Lambda Phi chapter that opened in 2005 at nearby Iowa State University.
"We know, OK, this can work in the Midwest," Karnes said. "We don't need to be in an East Coast or West Coast school to do this."
Opening a chapter of a gay fraternity is part of a larger strategy to expand Greek life on the University of Iowa campus, said Karnes. "We want to make sure we're offering a wide variety of groups," Karnes said. "You don't have to have a cookie-cutter experience in Greek life."
Chris Newman, the executive director of Delta Lambda Phi, said that interest in the gay fraternity has grown. Last year alone, it added eight chapters, increasing the total number from 19 to 27 nationwide. The fraternity has outposts at such schools as New York University, Vanderbilt and the University of Arizona. There's even a "colony" chapter at McGill University in Montreal. While still a small, Delta Lambda Phi is larger than gay fraternity Sigma Phi Beta or Gamma Rho Lambda, a lesbian sorority.
Newman said starting Delta Lambda Phi chapters at Midwestern state schools can be easier than opening them in large urban centers of the Northeast.
"A lot of those Midwestern schools, they are sort of these little liberal centers in typically conservative states, and they have very strong Greek systems because there isn't much else to do when you're in the middle of a cornfield," he said. "We actually struggle in urban areas, because there's no interest -- there are so many other outlets."
For Joe Picini, co-founder of BornLikeThis.org, an LGBTQ support website, gay fraternities might be stronger in rural areas because lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students don't have as many outlets available to them. An alumnus of New York University, Picini was vice president of the campus chapter of Delta Lambda Phi. "In urban settings," he said, "there is already a very strong sense of a gay community."
As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona in 2005, Newman helped form a chapter of Delta Lambda Phi. He said he came out in college, and while there were plenty of LGBTQ political and support groups on campus, he wanted an organization in which he could build more serious, lasting friendships.
Participating in Greek life gave him "a common sense of family unity and brotherhood," he said.
For junior Cameron Osborne, president of the school's Delta Lambda Phi at the University of California-Davis, the fraternity works like any other Greek organization, organizing social events and encouraging community service on campus. But "it's not often you find a fraternity aimed at gay, bisexual and progressive men," he said.
Schools that don't have gay Greek organizations often offer other social and service opportunities for LGBTQ students. William Atkins, assistant director of Greek life at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, said the school hadn't yet measured student interest in starting a gay fraternity, but that LGBTQ students who were already in Greek organizations worked for the community through Lambda Alliance , a group that recognizes sexual diversity in fraternities and sororities.
An increase in LGBTQ services could be part of a broader movement that recognizes gay marriage and gays serving in the military. "There's a widening conversation in general about the lives of LGBTQ people," said Gabe Javier, the director of the LGBTQ campus center at University of Wisconsin-Madison. And that leads to more resources being provided across the board, from community groups to LGBTQ-focused Greek life.