Homophobia at Fraternities

The following are summaries of a few of the most well-known instances of homophobia committed by fraternities, between 1978 and 1984.


1978: Lewan Expelled from Bones Gate

By January 1978, Stuart Lewan ’79 had become known as an “avowed homosexual,”1 an outspoken supporter of gay rights,2 and a leader of the new Gay Student Support Group.3 This attention prompted several brothers of the Bones Gate fraternity to violently throw him out of a party, “[slamming him] against a wall” and pulling him out the door by his collar.4 Lewan was kicked into the snow by someone “repeating, ‘It’s illegal in New Hampshire. It’s illegal in New Hampshire,'” a reference to New Hampshire’s law against homosexuality (which had been repealed two years before).5

When Lewan reported the incident to Assistant Dean Gregory Hanaken, the Bones Gate brothers admitted to throwing him out but denied that they were violent when doing so, and Hanaken could not find any witnesses.6 With a lack of evidence to take formal disciplinary action, Hanakan instead wrote a letter to the brothers calling their assault on Lewan “discrimination” and encouraging them “to think about the way [they] act towards others, and in this particular case, whether [they] feel comfortable responding in this way to ideas that are different from [their] own.”7 Lewan publicly downplayed the severity of this and other homophobic incidents he faced in order to keep up “a brave front as a public role model as a successful and visible gay man.”8

1980: Tri-Kap Bans Gay Dancing

In October 1980, an anonymous Kappa Kappa Kappa brother told The Dartmouth that his fraternity had passed a new amendment to their constitution, which banned “open expression of homosexuality or dancing with members of the same sex in the house or while representing the fraternity.”9 The exact wording of Tri-Kap’s policy was: “No overt homosexual activity shall be tolerated on the part of any person on any house function.”10 The amendment was passed as a reaction to an openly gay Tri-Kap brother dancing with another man11 a month before.12 Assistant Dean of Students Joseph Zolner declined to take any action, because the discrimination was not on the basis of “race, creed, or color,” as stipulated by College policy.13

1984: Tri-Kap Purge

Despite their best efforts to publicly shun anyone who was openly gay, Tri-Kap had been earning a reputation as a “gay” fraternity for several years.14 Tri-Kap had many closeted members “who sought out other gay people and kind of bonded with them in these very secret ways.”15 Around 1984, once even Dartmouth’s secretive gay communities had “suddenly become well known,”16 the frat had also “started to turn pretty right wing.”17

Until then, gay men were allowed into Tri-Kap “as long as nothing [was] terribly obvious.”18 But at a meeting in February 1984, brothers voted to depledge Robert Diley ’86, who felt that his being gay “had something to do with” the outcome of the vote, although Tri-Kap brothers claimed that it was because he was “being subversive.”19 At the same meeting, someone introduced a motion to depledge another gay brother, Joel Thayer ’85, and when Thayer was not depledged, five officers threatened to depledge themselves in protest.20 In a subsequent meeting, Thayer claimed that “a resolution was introduced…asking all gay brothers to depledge from Tri-Kap,” though the president of the house denied this.21 Thayer was then forced to become permanently inactive.22 Tri-Kap continued in this manner until, ultimately, nine gay brothers were forced out in some way,23 including some who voluntarily left “because they didn’t want to be a part of this open homophobia.”24

Unlike with the previous incidents, the College administration took direct action to right this situation. Dean Shanahan “[compelled] the fraternity to restore the affected men to full membership status.”25 However, all of them voluntarily depledged anyway, knowing that even if they were technically members of the house, they would not be truly welcome back.26

Campus Responses

Each incident drew a surge of letters of the editor of the D, weighing in on whether the homophobia was justified. Some argued that the brothers of Bones Gate27 and Tri-Kap28 had the right to decide whether they wanted to allow gay men into their houses, but others condemned the fraternities’ anti-gay discrimination, going so far as to accuse the brothers of having “stunted levels of maturity and human understanding.”29

The fraternities, however, barely commented at all. The president of Bones Gate published a two-sentence public apology in the D for “the manner in which Stuart Lewan ’79 was expelled from our House,” which “resulted from the actions of a few individuals which we regret.”30 Tri-Kap, on the other hand, released a statement in which they made no attempt to apologize. Instead, they defended their policy as a “private matter” that was “the result of many hours of thoughtful discussion on how to deal with a type of behavior that offends most people.”31

By 1980, when Tri-Kap had implemented their gay dancing ban, public outrage at homophobic discrimination had already become stronger than it was just two years before. The Gay Students Association spoke out against the ban,32 and even some straight people had begun confidently defending their gay classmates. The article “What Are the Tri-Kap Brothers Afraid Of?” was written by a straight man who “confessed” that he had “actually danced with another guy in a public place” and “[didn’t] feel the least bit guilty about it,”33 and praised the courage of openly gay Dartmouth students.34 Shortly after the Tri-Kap purge, David Seidenberg ’85 created the group Straights for Gay Rights through the Tucker Foundation,35 another form of emerging allyship.

Effect on the LGBTQ Community

Even though gay students at the time were aware that homophobia was common in fraternities, the most egregious incidents still left them afraid. The Tri-Kap purge caused “a lot of late-night crying sessions,” because “if Tri-Kap could do this, what else could happen?”36 However, not long after that, the GSA rallied together to write letters to the administration about it.37 The president of the GSA at that time was actually grateful for events like the Tri-Kap purge, because he could use the “victim status” as leverage in convincing administrators to extend the equal opportunity statement to include sexual orientation: “It’s like, ‘You want proof? I’ll give you proof.'”38


  1. Patricia Berry, “Lewan Ejected from Bones Gate,” The Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), January 31, 1978, 2.
  2. Stuart Lewan, “Helping Gays Adjust to Dartmouth,” The Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), January 6, 1978, 4.
  3. Joan Danziger, “Gay Group Ready for First Meeting,” The Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), January 9, 1978, 1-2.
  4. Berry, “Lewan Ejected,” 2.
  5. Berry, 2.
  6. Allen A. Drexel, “Degrees of Broken Silence: Dartmouth Man, Gay Men, and Women, 1935-1991,” Honors thesis, Dartmouth College, 1991, REF LD1441.D74 1991, Rauner Special Collections Library.
  7. Drexel, “Degrees of Broken Silence,” 66.
  8. Drexel, 66-67.
  9. Amy Iorio, “Gay Dancing Outlawed by Tri-Kap Brothers, The Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), October 28, 1980, 1.
  10. Peter J. Corren, “Tri-Kap Speaks,” Voces Clamantium, The Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), November 3, 1980, 7.
  11. Joan E. Smith, “Campus Homophobia Flares at Tri-Kap,” Harbinger, February 1984, 3, Homosexuality, Vertical Files, Rauner Special Collections Library.
  12. Iorio, “Gay Dancing Outlawed,” 1.
  13. Iorio, 1.
  14. Drexel, 87.
  15. Stephen A. Carter, interview by Hugh B. Mac Neill, transcript and audio, SpeakOut, November 10, 2018, https://exhibits.library.dartmouth.edu/s/SpeakOut/item/699.
  16. Carter, SpeakOut interview.
  17. Richard C. Morell, interview by Sophia T. Kinne, transcript and audio, SpeakOut, June 1, 2019, https://exhibits.library.dartmouth.edu/s/SpeakOut/item/1545.
  18. Smith, “Homophobia Flares at Tri-Kap,” 6.
  19. Domenic Gaeta and Chad Rosenberger, “Vote Taken to Force Brother out of Tri-Kap; Another Ordered Inactive,” The Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), February 13, 1984, 1.
  20. Gaeta and Rosenberger, “Vote Taken to Force Brother out of Tri-Kap,” 1-2.
  21. Gaeta and Rosenberger, 2.
  22. Gaeta and Rosenberger, 2.
  23. Drexel, 86.
  24. Carter, SpeakOut interview.
  25. Drexel, 93.
  26. Drexel, 93.
  27. Dee Flint, “Brothers Had Right,” Voces Clamantium, The Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), January 31, 1978, 2.
  28. Michael Swartz, “Dump on Tri-Kap,” Voces Clamantium, The Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), October 29, 1980, 6.
  29. Nancy Baskin, “Toleration Needed,” Voces Clamantium, The Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), January 31, 1978, 2.
  30. Joe Clark, “Bones Gate Apologizes,” Voces Clamantium, The Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), January 31, 1978, 2.
  31. Corren, “Tri-Kap Speaks,” 7.
  32. Iorio, 1
  33. James M. Cohn, “What Are the Tri-Kap Brothers Afraid Of?” The Dartmouth, (Hanover, NH), November 3, 1980, 6.
  34. Cohn, “What Are the Tri-Kap Brothers Afraid Of?” 7.
  35. Carol Cosenza, interview by Anne Y. Pinkney, transcript and audio, SpeakOut, March 27, 2019, https://exhibits.library.dartmouth.edu/s/SpeakOut/item/1498.
  36. Cosenza, SpeakOut interview.
  37. Cosenza, SpeakOut interview.
  38. Drexel, 92-93.