Though being in a fraternity and being gay may seem to be polar opposites, both lifestyles helped Thomas Durein become the person he is today.
Durein is a graduate of Oregon State University and a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity.
He worked as a Greek life student advisor at the University of California-Berkeley from 1997 to 2003 and is a supporter of the values of Greek life.
Durein shared his life story with audience members on Oct. 10 as one of the two events the gay-straight alliance group FUSION hosted at Linfield. These events were a part of national coming out day, a day celebrating the choice of members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) to share with their family and friends that they are not heterosexual.
In his experience as a gay man and member of a fraternity, Durein has learned how to incorporate all parts of his personality in a unique way.
This is a main point in the guest lectures he gives at college campuses, which focus on how Greek life can provide a safe and open environment for members of the LGBT community.
“We have a lot of similarities,” Durein said, regarding the Greek and LGBT communities. “We’ll all be a lot better when we can figure out how to support each other.”
After a troubling attempt to come out to his family, Durein left for college in 1984, a time when the AIDS epidemic was synonymous with the gay community.
In this climate Durein felt it was impossible to make friendships if people knew his sexual preference.
“Going to school meant stepping right back in the closet,” Durein said. “And although it was difficult, it worked for me in the end.
“I made friends with 90 guys in my fraternity who liked me for nothing that had to do with my sexuality and that felt good.”
After college Durein felt it was necessary to come out to his five closest friends in his fraternity.
With each acceptance it became clear that his brothers didn’t care if he was gay because they cared about him.
He recalled a time when one of his brothers told him he loved him on the phone right before hanging up.
“I called that sucker right back and said ‘I love you too,’”Durein said, with emphasis on the word “love.” “Love is about respecting the dignity of every individual.”
Social media and the internet have allowed for more transparency in the lives of young people today.
Durein explained how social media can be both empowering and terrifying for a person struggling with how to define their sexuality.
“So much is happening in the lives of young people before they even get to high school these days,” Durein said. “There can be so much bullying and questioning, and this can lead to worse things, like attempted suicide. It’s important that people feel supported by their peers.”
Linfield has four sororities and four fraternities on campus, many of which had a presence in the audience at the lecture.
There is support for FUSION in Greek life, especially in the Sigma Kappa Phi sorority.
Both FUSION presidents are member of the sorority. There is, however, a history of Greek life for being predominately heterosexual-focused.
“I think Greek life has always been an organization built on traditional male and female gender roles,” said senior Margo Ackerson, a member of Alpha Phi sorority.
Durein believes that there is a great potential in the Greek community to be leaders on campus to support the LGBT community.
But first they need to acknowledge the issue and educate themselves.
He urged the audience to attend an upcoming Safe Space training on Oct. 14 to learn more about how to help support an open environment.
“Greek communities have the potential to be the most important student groups on campus, but they need to open themselves up and realize the wide variety of life choices that are here at Linfield and any college campus,” Durein said.
The Safe Space training will be from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Oct. 14 in Riley 201.
Olivia Marovich / News editor
Olivia Marovich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.