Chris Hunt and Delta Lambda Phi: A House with No Closets
ON THE FLOOR is a wooden paddle bearing the Greek letters delta, lambda and phi. Delta was chosen for the pink triangles that the Nazis made homosexuals wear during the Third Reich. Lambda, a symbol often used by gay groups, has been traced back by some to an apocryphal army of lovers in Thebes that, it is said, went undefeated for many years. And phi? Well, it’s hard to get anyone to say what that stands for. But a fraternity has to have some secrets, doesn’t it?
So says Chris Hunt, the president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the six-year-old gay fraternity Delta Lambda Phi, the only gay frat in the country. In cutoffs and a tie-dyed Paul McCartney T-shirt, Hunt invites me into his Corcoran Street apartment in Washington. Travel posters, weight-lifting equipment and a Mac Plus in one corner give the apartment the feel of a typical dorm room. But up until recently, this place served as the designated weekly meeting and partying place for the D.C. chapter of Delta Lambda Phi — until they secured an on-campus room in the Marvin Center at George Washington University.
Hunt, who wears a silver hoop in one ear and likes to turn his baseball cap backward, is an avid collector of comic books, which he keeps sheathed in plastic covers. His favorites are Sandman and its recent spinoff, Death, which have gay characters. He says his apartment (in a neighborhood “of mostly yuppies and guppies”) served the fraternity’s purpose while the brothers looked for a new meeting place. Hunt, a stocky history and philosophy major at the University of Maryland, says getting elected president of the frat is the best thing that ever happened to him.
A lot of people might be surprised to hear about a gay frat — some might even see it as an oxymoron.
Well, first of all, we are, in every sense of the word, a fraternity. Even though there were many other groups in the gay community, political groups and religious groups and groups for every particular interest, like gay Southerners, gay bird-watchers, gay square dancers or whatever, there wasn’t a group based on the Greek model for fraternities. A lot of guys, gay or not, want that experience in college. Maybe their father was in one or whatever. Maybe they had joined a straight fraternity and got kicked out or quit because they were uncomfortable with the homophobic ambience — those the original ones, from 1987, but most of them have gone their separate ways. We ran into a couple during the gay March on Washington who came up to us and saw the letters on our sweat shirts and said, “Hey, I was one of the original ones” — it’s nice to reconnect with them that way and see where they are now, doing whatever.
How many chapters are there nationwide now?
In the ballpark of 20 — we’ve chartered 28 or so, but again, as with any fraternity, sometimes chapters fold. I can rattle off a few of the places for you. There’s one at Purdue. There’s one in the works at Ball State, one at Cal State at Sacramento, one at Long Beach State, one at San Francisco State, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Arizona State. I believe, actually, there are two in Arizona, one at Michigan State, one at [the University of Wisconsin at] Madison. Basically most of the chapters are on the West Coast, because that’s where there has been concentration for the first big surge of growth.
Is it really that hard to find a community where you feel you really belong?
The most intimidating thing, the thing that stopped me from coming out for so long, was — even though I wanted desperately to have a sense of belonging in the gay community and to have friends in the gay community — the prospect of seeking them out in the bar scene. It was just the most horrifying and frightening thing I could imagine. That really held me back for a long time. We seem to be common stories of members. There wasn’t a brotherhood of gay men, in that traditional sense, in existence, and that’s why it was founded, in 1986.
How many members do you have in the Washington chapter?
When I took over as president, we had only 10 active brothers, and now it’s up to 40, and we are planning our biggest rush ever in the fall, so we’ll be growing even more. We have roughly 10 associate brothers, who are brothers who have for reasons of their own had to cease full-time involvement and take a step back, and of course, since this was the first chapter, the founding chapter, we have a huge alumni network. We have 70 or 80 alumni. It’s very easy to run into Delta Lambda Phi brothers. And we are still in touch with some of needed to have a sense of community that you can’t find in bars. And I might ruffle a few feathers by saying this, but I don’t think you can really find it in a group like gay bird-watchers, either. ACT UP and Queer Nation have political interests, and that’s fine, that’s good, those groups are needed. But if you are looking for true belonging — a brotherhood, a group of peers — that is precisely the niche that Delta Lambda Phi was created to fill.
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