When Adrian Herrera received his bid in a fine looking envelope with the engraved Greek insignia of Tau Kappa Epsilon, he was shocked.
For Herrera, the idea of receiving a bid from a prominent fraternity was a shocking, but a rare opportunity that needed to be seized. He felt grateful.
As a “rushee,” Herrera who is gay, took the risk to “come out” to fraternity brothers during initial rush interviews.
“It was a big step in the right direction when they gave me my bid,” Herrera said, adding that it is a honor because the fraternity as a whole decided to accept him and his alternative lifestyle.
To some, his alternative lifestyle was a surprise and a hard transition, while others didn’t seem to care. The Adrian they had met a week earlier and the guy that was now standing before them was no different.
Coming from his home state of Maryland to Cal Poly was an adventure full of new experiences for Herrera.
Cal Poly and the West Coast represented a whole new world – including a different atmosphere, different weather and most of all, different people.
Herrera, who described himself as a normal guy, said before coming out that the members of the fraternity were often heterosexist – a common problem that Herrera faces when meeting new people.
Heterosexism is a prejudice exhibited when one assumes that others are heterosexual based on their looks, personality or mannerisms.
“I didn’t look like I was gay,” Herrera said. “Their perception was that I fit the mold of a TEKE before they knew I was gay.”
At Cal Poly and around the United States, the presence of gay males in fraternities is usually a rarity.
For those few gay men who do venture into the greek system, coming out can be a great and positive experience at times, and at other times can reflect a common prejudice.
For people like Herrera, the process of joining a fraternity was a positive experience – one of exploration and expansion for both him and his brothers at Tau Kappa Epsilon. However, for many other men around the country, the process can be negative and limiting.
On Oct. 1, Herrera’s experiences and the experiences of other gay fraternity members from around the country was released in a book entitled “Brotherhood: gay life in college fraternities.”
The book highlights both positive and negative experiences of gay men joining fraternities or active members coming out to their brothers.
In Herrera’s case, Tau Kappa Epsilon accepted his lifestyle and was able to evolve its house into one that accepts its members based only on the content of their character and not the orientation of their sexuality.
Herrera said this is not the case for other fraternities at Cal Poly.
“I don’t know if I would have been able to pledge for another fraternity had I come out to them,” Herrera said.
There is an impression that the greek system is not accepting, GLBU faculty advisor Matt Carlton said.However, the trend of acceptance does not stop at Tau Kappa Epsilon, but is also present at Delta Chi, another social fraternity affiliated with Cal Poly, Delta Chi President Chris Testa said.
“I am very open to it, I think it’s something that could be very good for our house,” Testa said.
Testa said that his house would probably be accepting, but could be initially apprehensive of pinning a pledge that exercised a gay lifestyle.
“I feel like it would be hard for some guys to deal with it,” Testa said. “Overall, I think that the house would adapt.”
Many fraternity members believe that their sexuality is a pillar of brotherhood and many events surround a heterosexual lifestyle.
Mixers, formals and other social events within the greek system cater to a heterosexual lifestyle in that they encourage interaction between the sexes, Testa said.
“It would be hard for an active to come out and stay active,” Testa said. “It would be very difficult.”
Although there are few known gay social fraternity members at Cal Poly, there are people of the same orientation that have chosen to walk another path to brotherhood.
“Yeah, that (social fraternities) didn’t really appeal to me,” said Eric Hubbs, president of Delta Sigma Pi, Cal Poly’s co-ed business fraternity.
Hubbs has been a member since his freshmen year when he came out to the fraternity. Hubbs is now a senior.
“People who are living a more balanced life are a little more open,” Hubbs said of his fraternity members. “It’s not really an issue at all.”
This openness is also evident in the fact that there are multiple members of Delta Sigma Pi that are openly gay.
“I was the one responsible for one of the installations last spring on Dexter Lawn, In retaliation to the anti-gay installation,” Hubbs said. “I needed bodies so about ten fraternity members helped me.”
This according to Hubbs is a good indication of the tolerance found within the ranks the business fraternity.
Hubbs, however uninvolved with a primarily social fraternity admits that talking to Herrera has opened his eyes to fraternities such as Tau Kappa Epsilon.
For Herrera, receiving his bid to join Tau Kappa Epsilon was a moment in which he had two choices: take the bid and break new ground or reject the bid and uphold the status quo.
He took it.
For Testa the choice of accepting a gay brother into Delta Chi would be difficult, but he would support it.
For Hubbs, a different side of fraternities has opened doors to new social opportunities and he has seized them.
Gay men at Cal Poly face many challenges, but with people like Herrera, Testa, and Hubbs the barrier between fraternity life and gay men is being broken and new roads paved.