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Surprises in the Desert

A Great Tailgating Scene and a Gay Frat in Tucson

(This story was published in 2006).

By: Todd Heustess

Sometimes things just catch you by surprise, like Mariah Carey’s big comeback, Al Gore making an entertaining movie, or Paris Hilton arrested for DUI. I had no expectations for my tailgate experience in Tucson for the Arizona-Southern Cal game.

I originally made the plans to go because I was already going to be in Phoenix and I knew people form L.A. going to the game, not because I had a burning desire to see a Wildcat football game. I figured with SC in town it would be a sellout (it was) there would be some excitement as the home underdog looked to spring an upset, and if all else failed I could write about all the SC fans who traveled for the game (there were plenty to be sure).

Imagine my surprise when I realized that the tailgate scene in Tucson for Wildcat games is close to perfect. Was it the setting, with the Santa Catalina Mountains serving as an especially dramatic backdrop? Was it the dedicated group of gay fans who have a 3-year-old strong tailgate? Was it finding an active gay fraternity whose members like to tailgate like any other fraternity? Was it all the hot shirtless guys running around in red and blue body paint? Whatever it was, I’m glad I made the trip because tailgating in Tucson was as good as it gets.

Mary O’Mahoney is the Assistant Director of Sport Clubs & Family Programs at UA served as my guide to the rollicking tailgate scene at UA. She responded to my post on the UA message board and told me that she and her friends have been tailgating together for UA football games for about three years and that most the crowd was gay sports fans. At the same time, Larry Muth, Secretary of the Arizona (UA) Chapter of Delta Lambda Phi, contacted me to let me know that a number of the brothers at DLP are football fans and would be going to the game against the Trojans.

I was especially excited to meet Larry and the DLP brothers because I had never talked to or met a member of an active gay fraternity and their on-campus experience was as intriguing to me as their interest in sports. After talking to Larry I realized that my tailgate experience in Tucson was not going to be just about partying and football, but a chance to see first-hand how the gay collegiate experience is changing for the better. A gay fraternity that is accepted by the campus at large is a new and exciting concept for me, but as I found out its actually not that big a deal, which for me is kind of a big deal.

At UA, all the major sports facilities are located together in a cluster on the east side of the campus. Arizona Stadium is next to the McKale Center which is next to the baseball field. There is a giant lawn behind the McKale Center and the McKale Lawn is the epicenter of the Arizona tailgate experience. Spaces on the lawn are reserved and in accordance with Pac-10 rules, no one can arrive on the lawn to tailgate earlier than 5 hours before game time. The game was at 5 p.m. and by 1 p.m. the lawn was packed with an assortment of campers, RVs, SUVs, trucks, cars, and a few thousand Wildcat and Trojan fans. The McKale Lawn is just a couple hundred yards from Arizona Stadium, less than a five-minute walk. Open containers are allowed within in the confines of the lawn and uniformed tailgate staff (not kidding) are there to check parking passes and keep people from walking into the street with open containers.

The spot where Mary and her friends gather to tailgate is owned by Daniel Scott, who also happens to be the owner of Woody’s, one of the most popular gay bars in Tucson. Daniel and his partner Danny have had the spot for three years and it has become increasingly popular among not only their friends and families, but gay UA students, alums and anyone else who likes a good party. No one makes a big deal about the fact that it’s mostly gay fans (slightly more men than women) and visiting Trojan fans were warmly welcomed as well. Also on hand were some bartenders from Woody’s who to a man told me that that weren’t really football fans but they loved the lively social atmosphere at Daniel’s spot and on the lawn in general. In fact many people I met and talked to didn’t actually go to the game but were there to socialize and have fun.

Our tailgate experience was divided between hanging out at Daniel’s spot eating and drinking (no kegs here, mostly imported beer, finger foods and pizza that was delivered by a local establishment) and walking around the lawn checking out scene. Walking around the lawn seemed to be the most popular thing to do and the Wildcat Band and cheerleaders even made an appearance. The scene at the lawn reminded me of tailgating at South Carolina, walking around the fairgrounds and the parking areas near the stadium, except that in Tucson the stadium is on campus and the Lawn is nicely self-contained, which makes it perfect for wandering around, drink in hand. The scene on the lawn was evenly divided between alumni and students, and everywhere you looked there were little parties going on, everyone excited and happy, including the SC fans.

I love the excitement and buzz of being a game where the home team is an underdog and while Arizona coach Mike Stoops is definitely restoring excitement to the Wildcat football program, make no mistake that UA was a definitely underdog to SC. I think that added to the exciting pregame atmosphere because there was enough improvement in UA for their fans to dare to dream of an upset, however unlikely that might be. That buzz carried over to the game as nearly 59,000 fans jammed Arizona Stadium for a game that was surprisingly close. I didn’t make into the game until mid-way through the second quarter, and even then the lawn was still packed with partying fans. SC won the game, 20-3, but the game was closer than that with SC scoring late to finally put away the determined Wildcat team. After the game I think there were even more people on the lawn than before the game and the party went on past 11.

The next day I sat down with three members of DLP because I really wanted to talk to them about their experience at UA as a gay fraternity. The UA Chapter was originally founded in 1991 but only lasted a few years, disbanding because of lack of interest. It was refounded again in 2001, but that only lasted a year with the chapter again disbanding because of disinterest. Two years ago, another attempt was made to reestablish the UA chapter and this time it appears to be working. DLP started as a campus interest group in 2005, gained members and momentum as word got out around campus about their presence. On Aug. 27 this year DLP officially became a fraternity at UA with membership in the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC) and full recognition and support by the University.

As I listened to the guys recount the history of DLP I listened becoming more and more intrigued because the idea of a gay fraternity coexisting with other fraternities and sororities on a large campus like UA was fascinating to me. I kept asking what was the general reaction by the campus and community at large that a gay fraternity would soon be existing at UA mostly because for someone of my generation (I’m 37) the idea of a gay fraternity not being a big deal, is well, a big deal.

Alex Grubb, Vice-President of the UA chapter said that the existence of the chapter at UA has barely made news, that in general it just wasn’t a big concern among students, the administration or alumni. He and the brothers think that with today’s generation of students that something like this is just not anything to get excited or upset about. According to Alex, there were a few letters to The Wildcat, the student paper, saying that there shouldn’t be a gay fraternity on campus but those letters were definitely part of the minority view.

All but two of the current fraternity and sorority presidents voted in support of the DLP chapter according to Alex and that basically the other fraternities seem to think it’s not a big deal and he in fact wondered if they even know that DLP exists. The fraternity presidents know that DLP is on campus because they voted to approve it but Alex said that’s it’s possible their existence is such a non-event that it may not have been communicated to all the members of the individual fraternity chapters or that maybe it has and no one really cares or just not a big deal. That’s what I kept hearing from the guys, that it just wasn’t a big deal and that there have been no problems, nothing negative about their existence at UA.

DLP had its first official rush this fall, adding seven new brothers to the chapter, bringing their total membership to 21. Alex said that they are approaching the other Greek organizations about having mixers and socials and while the sororities have definitely been more receptive to the idea, Alex says that some of the fraternities may be interested as well, but nothing official has been planned. According to Larry and Alex, they are so new that they are just focused on making the chapter viable and organized. Right now they do not have a house, and in the short-term getting a house is cost-prohibitive because of their small size. However if they continue to have good turnouts for rush, and bring in good pledge classes, a house is not a far-fetched idea.

The brothers don’t yet have enough members to fully participate in intramural sports, but it something they are interested in doing according to Derrick Pooyouma, the fund-raising chair at DLP. Derrick said that many brothers are avid volleyball fans and play club volleyball and that they all participated in Greek Week held in the spring with full support of the other fraternities and sororities. Derrick is an avid athlete, competing in three or four triathlons a year is an experienced rock climber and hiker and is a member of the ZonaZoo, a campus-wide student sports organization that allows students to get tickets to UA sporting events for a fee of $60 a year. Community service is also a very important component to fraternity experience at DLP. Derrick will be combining his interest in sports with the chapter’s community service goals when he represents DLP in the Tricats (the campus Triathlon group) Aquathlon (swimming and running) on Oct. 8, a campus-wide fundraiser for Camp Wildcat, a student-run non profit organization devoted to improving the lives of Tucson’s financially, mentally, and physically disadvantaged youth. The Tricats are the campus Triathlon group (Derrick’s a member) and an Aquathlon is a new and fast growing sports event that combines swimming and running.

After talking with Larry, Derrick and Alex I realized that there was nothing that special about their chapter, that they were a regular fraternity and they are treated as such by the University and other students, which too me, makes them very special. I’m always excited to meet other gay sports fans across the country when I travel, but when I’m lucky enough to witness positive changes affected by the next generation of gay leaders, my happiness transcends sports and gives me hope for the future.