By Austin A. Deray, Diversity and Inclusion Commissioner
Earlier this June, many traveled home from the 2023 General Convention in Scottsdale, Arizona, excited and proud to be Phis. While there, I had a conversation with one undergraduate member that transported me back to 2008, when I was the Greek life intern at Mercer University. This new member came by my office and asked to grab lunch, where he asked if I thought his coming out would change everyone’s opinion of him. I said I would hope not and encouraged him to talk to my Fraternity little brother about his experience, remembering he didn’t come out until after he had graduated. Reflecting now, I know that it wasn’t for a few years after my graduation that the chapter had a member who was out to the whole chapter while pledging and active membership.
Back to the conversation in Scottsdale with an undergraduate delegate questioning if he should come out to his chapter; while he is not the first, this delegate was nervous because he would be the first queer member to become president of his chapter. I told him being the first can be lonely, but it’s important. He is opening the doors for others. While sharing some of my experiences as a person of color, although a different type of social identity, our experiences both saw moments of isolation, panic, and worry. This conversation and memory reminded me that while we have come a long way, there is still work to be done. The coincidence of this conversation was that it took place during June, Pride Month.
Coined by gay activists M. McConnell, J. Baker, and T. Higgins in the 1980s and ’90s, ‘pride’ from ‘gay pride’ promotes dignity, equality, self-affirmation, and visibility of LGBTQ+ communities and people. Pride finds its true origins in the Christopher Street Liberation Day. Coming in response to the Stonewall Riots in NYC, where LGBTQ+ communities came together to protest the raids of the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. Born from that riot and demand for a conscious witness, more and more protests, parades, and social movements have occurred in June. It was not until 1999 that President Bill Clinton recognized June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, with it being shortened to Pride Month the following year. After President Clinton, Presidents Obama and Biden have both continued the tradition.
I asked a close friend and fellow Georgia Phi, Tyler Wilson, Georgia Southern ’16, what his experience was like in 2014, and he shared:
“Outside of Phi Delt, I came from a deeply religious Pentecostal familial upbringing. For the most part, my chapter brothers were some of the only people to ever accept me. I don’t know that I’d be who I am today without the support of those men—Nick, Jonno, Hunter, Scottie, Matthew, and Austin. Hell, I genuinely don’t even know that I would be here— that is the importance of brotherhood; being a man of character and principle while standing in the gap to support your brother. Regardless of belief, difference, or creed. Supporting others as you would want to be supported and pushing each other towards the greatest version of themselves. For those reasons, for those men, and for all the reasons I am sure are to come. I am damn proud to be a Phi.”
Speaking to Tyler made me realize what J. David Almacy, Widener ’92, our newly elected General Council President, shared during his opening speech was timely and something we all need to keep top of mind. Brother Almacy reminded Convention attendees that the Wilford Plaque in the Founders Room in Elliot Hall reads:
“In friendship sincere as a brother devoted; in honor, aspiring to the noblest culture; with conduct unblemished; revering God.”
Brother Almacy then went on to speak of Phi Delta Theta as a lifelong commitment to personal growth and development and that we need to, as a Fraternity, return to our Cardinal Principle of Rectitude. He stressed, however, that moral rectitude is not only being faithful, but someone who exemplifies compassion, honesty, integrity, and kindness. The celebration of Pride is all those things: showing compassion to our brothers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community; showcasing our brothers who are living their truths and presenting themselves in an honest manner; demonstrating the kindness we have for our fellows and our brothers while they celebrate their lived experiences; and giving our members the chance to live a life of integrity, a life where they are fully authentic.
I want to leave you with the words of Nikith Poovaiah, San Francisco ’23. Brother Poovaiah shared:
“I define pride as the acceptance and equality of all individuals, regardless of any other aspect of who they are. Phi Delt exemplifies this by actively embracing and celebrating the diverse identities within our brotherhood as well as striving for equality and acceptance in all facets of our brotherhood.”
If we are going to be a fraternity that helps nurture the future leaders of our global society, we have to practice our principles like Brother Almacy reminded us. By supporting and celebrating the lived experiences of our brothers, we are creating a more inclusive fraternity and compassionate brotherhood that allows its members to live honestly and authentically.
Join me and others in wishing our brothers who are members of the LGBTQ+ communities a Happy Pride in 2023!