Joshua Decker said growing up as a gay Jewish man in rural Missouri was “like walking up a mountain in the rainforest with flip flops on.”
“I was one of the first people to be open about my sexuality, having come out when I was 14,” said Decker, a junior theater and French double major.
While in high school, Decker tried to establish a gay-straight alliance but was unsuccessful due to a lack of support from his school administration.
“I was willing to stand up for myself, and being open about my sexuality, I believe that helped others be more open because I still get emails from kids that were freshmen when I was a senior that tell me that I helped them,” he said.
Decker said he saw Philadelphia as a better opportunity for the arts, as well an opportunity to be more open with his sexuality. The arts-enthusiast is involved in Temple’s acting community and is a member of the Sidestage program.
But Decker said he has been looking for a brotherhood since his freshman year at Temple.
“If you’re like me, you come to college and you don’t know anyone,” Decker said. “It’s really kind of freaky.”
He said he has been trying to rush a fraternity during the past three years, but said he believes attempts have been futile because of his willingness to express his sexuality.
This past fall rush week, he attempted to join three fraternities but said he hit roadblocks. Decker said that some fraternities were blatantly against his joining because he was too “visibly gay” and said at other fraternities he could “feel the tension.”
Decker said he felt that he “couldn’t be himself” because he was too worried about being “openly gay.”
Decker said someone suggested that he make a fraternity rather than be upset about the struggles he faced in joining one. From there, Decker pursued an idea to create a progressive fraternity.
He began his efforts by posting a few flyers around Main Campus, mostly in Ritter Hall. So far, he has heard from four men interested in helping him start the fraternity.
Decker said some people believe the fraternity will become a type of dating service, but he said that’s not how people should look at the idea.
“It’s about making friends and having a brotherhood,” Decker said.
The junior originally wanted to expand his fraternity as a multi-campus chapter to other schools in Philadelphia, like Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania.
On Monday Nov. 10, Decker had a meeting with Megan Connelly, the program coordinator of Temple’s fraternity and sorority life.
Decker said he was told he would not be able to pursue the fraternity with Temple right now, given his current plans. He is now considering making a chapter of Delta Lambda Phi, one of the largest “allied” fraternities in the United States.
Christopher Carey, director of student activities, wrote in an email that “clarity and risk management” play a role in Temple’s discontinuation of city-wide chapter recognition.
“If there is a city-wide chapter without any Temple University students, the institution runs the risk of being held liable for issues unrelated to Temple students,” Carey wrote.
Delta Lambda Phi is regulated by the North-American Interfraternity Conference, an association of fraternities. Due to regulations set forth by the NIC, new DLP chapters will not be accepted until 2018.
DLP allows for city-wide and community based chapters. Decker now plans to shift toward making his fraternity city-wide and not specific toward any Philadelphia university.
“I still want to offer all gay, bisexual and progressive men in the Philadelphia area the opportunity to join a frat that is geared towards them, even if it’s not specific to their university,” Decker said.
“[The fraternities] definitely know that there are people that want to bring this here,” Decker said.
Decker said anyone who identifies as male is welcome to join the fraternity. But its focus, he said, would be on men who are outside of the “hetero-normative” field.
Decker said because today’s generation questions old-fashioned tendencies in society, it is the perfect time to create groups like his that are not exclusive of others and are meant to promote and enhance the experiences of all.
The Missouri native would like to focus the fraternity’s charity work on mental health.
“It’s a big thing, being treated like a second-class citizen; that really weighs on your mind,” Decker said.
Two Temple students who have approached Decker about joining his fraternity believe the current fraternities at Temple aren’t accepting of gay men.
“The frat that I am in is, for the most part, not accepting; if you are too gay or are obviously gay, then you won’t get into a frat,” said a Temple student who asked to remain anonymous because he feared negative consequences within his fraternity for commenting on the issue.
The student said his brothers sometimes refer to pledges as “gay” and think a gay brother would give the fraternity, which he declined to name, a “bad image.”
Another student who also wanted to remain anonymous for the same reason said he likes the idea of fraternities, especially as an international student who has difficulty making friends with people outside of the foreign student group.
“It’s about making [a] connection with other people who are like you, and that’s all I want – is for it to be OK to be gay and not be judged,” the international student said.
Jay Chan is a sophomore computer science major. He is an international student interested in the “progressive” fraternity because he believes the brotherhood would provide new friendships.
“Being an international student, you don’t find a lot of support from other international students about being gay,” Chan said.
Decker wants to help foster friendships for men regardless of sexuality.
“Everyone should be afforded the same opportunities as everyone else,” Decker said.
Emily Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org