On last night’s episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Andrew Cunanan effortlessly waded through a group of wealthy older men attending his 26th birthday party. This ridiculously lavish party actually happened in real life — Norman Blachford threw Cunanan two birthday celebrations: One for friends Cunanan’s own age, and one for their mutual friends. Like Blachford, many of their mutual friends were older, wealthy men who kept their sexuality hidden. In addition to having a $2,500 a month allowance and an Infiniti, being associated with Blachford gave Cunanan access to the motherlode of all social connections: a Gammu Mu membership.
Gamma Mu was a Fort Lauderdale-based fraternity consisting of successful, older — and mostly closeted — gay men. The fraternity was founded in 1967 by a travel agent named Cliff Petit, and the fraternity’s greek letters were chosen to represent the phrase “good men.”
The highly sought-after membership was only available through invitation. At the time of Cunanan's murders in 1997, Gamma Mu had a membership of 650. Generally, the members were all professionals: businessmen, lawyers, doctors, financiers, TV producers, and college professors. One anonymous member identified to The Advocate the single factor that tied Gamma Mu’s members together: “To be blunt about it, the common denominator for the members is that they all have money,” he said.
The draw of Gamma Mu was its social aspect. In addition to smaller parties, members convened for expensive, twice yearly social events, like cruises and trips abroad. A sample of their many trips includes a cross-Atlantic trip on the Queen Elizabeth 2, a ski trip to Aspen, and ballooning in the south of France. At these gatherings, members had the freedom to be their full selves. In addition to being a social club, the group devoted itself to fundraising. In 1997, Gamma Mu raised $83,000 for AIDs treatment and counseling.
Cunanan's five-person murder spree thrust Gamma Mu into the spotlight. And for a social club that relied on secrecy to protect its members who weren’t out of the closet, that was a major problem. In an article for The Advocate, an officer for the group admitted, “‘We don’t want publicity.’”
That said, if you knew where to look, you could find mentions of Gamma Mu long before the Cunanan scandal. Armistead Maupin was a San Francisco-based writer whose series of novels explored San Francisco’s gay community. In the book Further Tales of the City, published in 1982, Maupin poked fun at the smugness of a Gamma Mu member.
“The realtor nodded. ‘We did a fly-in together once. Gamma Mu.’ He tossed out then name like bait, Michael noticed, as if everyone had heard of the national gay millionaires’ fraternity,” Maupin’s book reads.
Generally, though, Gamma Mu was kept secret to protect its members. All that changed in the aftermath of Cunanan’s members, and media swarmed to obtain interviews with members, photos from events, and intel on the society.
According to an interview Petit gave the New York Daily News, Cunanan had become a member of Gamma Mu in 1994. "Andrew — we knew him as Andrew DaSilva — became a member in 1994. I met him at a [Gamma Mu] meeting in Seattle," Petit said. "I found him to be mild-mannered and well-dressed. But to me, he just wasn't that smart."
The fraternity was adamant that Cunanan’s association with Gamma Mu terminated when he stopped seeing Norman Blachford. An official statement given to CNN states that Cunanan had had been employed by a Gamma Mu member, but "his association [with Gamma Mu] ended when his employment was completed with that member."
Gamma Mu clarified that none of Cunanan’s victims were Gamma Mu members. "Neither Versace nor any of the other murder victims were, or ever have been, members of our association,” the statement read. That said, we know for a fact that Lincoln Aston, Cunanan’s longtime friend, was a member, and that Cunanan socialized among the group for at least some time.
As for Gamma Mu today? The society’s charitable arm has a public-facing website. “The Gamma Mu Foundation awards grants and scholarships to the LGBT community with a focus on rural and other underserved populations in the U.S.,” the website reads. Gamma Mu is less secretive than it had been in 1997, likely because American society is not as stiflingly homophobic as it once was. Whether through Jeff Trail's experience in the army or Cunanan's secretive social circle, American Crime Story: Versace consistently shows the lengths that gay men had to go to compartmentalize their identity during this era.