The Rainbow Black Greeks
The issue of homosexuality in our organizations is usually talked about in hush-hush tones. It's more "Do you think that brother/sister is gay?" or "I think that chapter is recruiting gays."
Back when I was a young college brother, my frat and I took delight in going to parties and chanting clever little ditties against other fraternities. For the most part, the back-and-forth chants were good-natured, usually about how much more cool my organization was compared to another organization. Or how we pledged so much harder than they did. But it was all so innocent, with basically the goal of having partygoers say to their friends that your fraternity rocked the party over another fraternity.
But there was one chant that would always piss us off. It was when any rival fraternity inevitably began chanting "Gay Phi Gay" in a sing-song way. Oh, how that would burn us! One reason was because A Phi A was an easy rhyme with Gay Phi Gay, which made it hard to stop. But more importantly to us, no heterosexual fraternity man wanted to be connected with anything gay. It was the "no homo" era before the "no homo" era.
You'd think as college-educated, black men, we'd brush off these chants as being sophomoric, homophobic and beneath contempt. We would rise above these immature utterances. Oh no, my friends, you'd be wrong! These chants were a declaration of fraternal war against our straight manhood and that could not stand. So we responded with this chant:
"You may say, Gay Phi Gay, but who is stroking your women while you are away? The Alphas! The Alphas, the whole damn frat! While you were talking that bullshit, we were working those backs!"
That would show them! Combat rumors of homosexuality by pulling out the three-pronged weapon of hyper-heterosexuality, sexism and misogyny. And we'd pat ourselves on the back, congratulating ourselves on positively affirming our straightness.
But don't think Alpha was alone in its homophobia. Each and every organization had its own homophobic profile. Kappas were deemed "gay" because they were so-called "pretty boys." Omegas were deemed "gay" because they liked to get naked and grind on each other at parties. And among the women, the rumors of lesbian AKAs, Deltas and Zetas were always just below the surface.
Usually the issue of homosexuality in our organizations was talked about in hush-hush tones. It was more "Do you think that brother/sister is gay?" or "I think that chapter is recruiting gays." Almost all of the time, the discussion was among fellow heterosexuals talking about whether or not gays and lesbians have a place in their fraternity or sorority.
But it dawned on me recently that in 25 years as a black Greek, I don't think I'd ever asked a real-life openly gay or lesbian black Greek about what life is like being in an NPHC organization. So I asked a couple of sorority members to give a lesbian perspective.
Meet Hannah J. Brooks, a soror of Alpha Kappa Alpha from Florida A&M, and Toya Hankins, a Zeta Phi Beta from North Carolina. Both are lesbians, but they're different. Hannah is 20 years old and newly graduated, while Toya is 38 years old and has been a Zeta for nearly 20 years. Both are out to their family, friends and their sorors. And they each have an interesting perspective on what it's like being a lesbian black Greek.
"I didn't know I was a lesbian when I was going through the [initiation] process because I was a sophomore and strictly straight," Toya laughs. "I didn't come out until I was 25 and in the graduate chapter.
"[Before I came out], I had one soror make a disparaging comment about lesbians in my presence which really made me feel uncomfortable. I addressed her in private, not outing myself, but just saying that I have close friends who are gays and lesbians, and I didn't appreciate what she said. She apologized. The other members I came out to just shrugged their shoulders, like whatever."
According to Toya, the majority of her sorority sisters could care less about her being a lesbian, as long as she just did the work of Zeta and didn't make the sorority look bad.
Hannah, unlike Toya, was openly known to be a lesbian on the Florida A&M campus, and to the AKAs on campus, when she applied for membership.
"I was openly gay from the second I walked on campus," Hannah said. "I was never really 'in the closet,' but unless I had a conversation about relationships, people may not have known. As for the reaction of the AKAs when I applied, there was really no response. They always seemed more concerned with my work ethic. The only time my sexuality came up was when I was suffering heartbreak."
And both Hannah and Toya joined their respective organizations for the same reasons that their straight sorors usually talk about, the ideals and personal experiences.
"I liked what the organization stood for in terms of their ideals of finer womenhood and sisterly love on a national level," Toya said, speaking about Zeta Phi Beta. "I also liked their tight bond with Phi Beta Sigma on a local and national level."
For Hannah, it was growing up in Chicago and realizing that AKAs had shaped who she was to this point.
"I came from a hard-working family, and my mother [hoping to prevent me from being a part of my environment in the South Side of Chicago] placed me in many youth programs in the city. Most of these programs were at our church and run by women of Alpha Kappa Alpha. If it weren't for their guidance, and teaching me the importance of education and service, I would be an entirely different person. I owe my life to these women and joined in hopes of embodying these values to touch other lives like my own."
And while both have had positive experiences as lesbian black Greeks, they do have to deal with issues that their straight brothers and sisters don't have to worry about. We'll cover that in Part II...
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