A guy invited me to his fraternity house at Indiana University. It would be my chance to impress those members during rush week in September 1988. This particular house was coveted for its distinguished image and reputation. Many guys on campus eagerly wanted to get in there. I was one of them.
I went there to visit for a casual event one night. During the party, a group of classic All-American fraternity brothers took me to a private room to have a more intimate chat.
This jovial impromptu committee surrounding me was full of probing questions. What is my major? Where am I from? Do I have a girlfriend? And that last question started a dizzying dialogue I will always remember throughout my lifetime.
I told the half dozen greek-lettered boys that I was single. To which I was asked how long had I been a single man. I told them that I hadn’t really had any girlfriends. Yet.
The balloon deflated right then. There was the sound of silence for several seconds. All eyes were fixated on me. Then one of them simply inquired, "Are you gay?"
I was in a corner. There were six guys in a semi-circle between me and the only exit from that isolated room. Adrenaline surged within me. I was scared. I wasn’t sure I could speak. So much was going through my head in a mere split second. I needed to answer, though, and quickly.
I blurted out that I was not. The explanation I gave was that I had been busy with my AP schoolwork and dual sports in high school. So I could get a scholarship and an acceptance letter. I did not need any distractions from getting to my goal of attending college.
Then I reflected on my response. Did I respond too slowly? Did I sound confident? Did I overcompensate? Please don’t let this feeling of vertigo get worse, I thought.
The group remained silent. They stared stone-faced at me for what seemed an eternity. I remember hearing a clock ticking. It was an interrogation. They wanted me to break under pressure. I could tell.
The clock continued ticking. Even louder it seemed. Like it was taunting me. I remained calm.
A preppy-dressed guy finally spoke. He told me that their house had a proud tradition. They could not afford to ruin that by allowing the wrong type in. They had to get rid of the undesirables is what he informed me. They all slowly and carefully nodded in agreement.
Then the guys loosened up, smiled and began cracking jokes about gays and AIDS.
As soon as that interview was done, we all walked back toward the main room where the loud party was in full effect. One brother stayed back with me. He walked alongside me, put his arm around my neck and explained how relieved he was that I wasn't a homosexual.
He said some of those guys really despised fags. And they would have beaten me mercilessly right there and thrown me out of the house if I was. He laughed. I did too, nervously. Then he told me he was serious. I believed him. Sadly, I believed him.
I didn’t join that fraternity nor any other one. This experience has stayed with me for the last 32 years. It would not be until 2004 when I would finally come out of the closet. Moments of hate like that affect you in a profound way.
I never forgot that evening. That pain has always been kept bottled up inside me. But today I’m proud of myself. Finally, I am sharing this story publicly for the first time. I never thought I could or would.
I decided it was time to let go of that pain. It feels good to take back that night.
Ron Blake is a 1994 MPA graduate of IU and is a former City Councilman for Hobart, Indiana.