The Rainbow Black Greeks: Part II
Being a lesbian in a sorority sometimes means having to make decisions heterosexual members don't have to worry about. The freedom of being out has to be balanced with the realties of how people both in and outside of the sorority view them.
"I remember prior to coming out, I worked with the Amicettes, our auxiliary group for younger girls between the ages seven and twelve," Toya said. "I made the decision after I started coming out to stop working with the girls because I didn't want any drama. I didn't want parents thinking I was going to "convert" their children. I'm sure that if there were issues raised, enough of my sorors would have squashed it, but I decided to move on to work with our scholarship and public relations committee."
Regardless of the acceptance of their straight sorority members, there is no getting around the fact that being a lesbian in a chapter is "different". Hannah notes that having the typical college workshop on black male and female relationships can be difficult if your relationship centers on black female and black female relationships. But on a personal level, Hannah feels like she's treated just the same as her straight sisters, particularly when talking about their personal lives.
"My line sisters love me and have my back when crazy girls I've dated have had issues with me. We love each other just the same."
Toya senses differences whenever her girlfriend comes to sorority events. It can be quite awkward when all of the women at a Zeta banquet stand up to sing a hymn, and Toya's girlfriend is the only woman to sit among the male spouses. And teaching a same sex girlfriend that she can't just pick up Toya's sorority shirt and wear it somewhere is something that doesn't happen in straight Black Greek households.
"Other sorors don't have to worry about their partners having sorority calls and sign thrown up at them when they happen to drive their cars," Toya laughs. "But otherwise, I think that my straight sisters and I have the same challenges of trying to balance relationships and sorority life."
Still, one of the biggest challenges any fraternity or sorority has to accomplish is figuring out how to take heterogeneous backgrounds and have them coalesce around the organization's principles and ideals. It happens everyday with members coming from different regions, socio economic background, and racial backgrounds. That said, some straight Black Greeks either don't feel comfortable around gays and lesbians, or feel that same sex relationships go their faith. It's a difficult challenge for both sides to navigate.
"Who I sleep with does not determine how profoundly I believe in [and will work for] service to all mankind," Hannah says. "If the member, or prospective member embodies the values of the organization, what does their sex life have to do with anything? There are plenty of obnoxiously promiscuous heterosexuals in any organization, and if that has little to no bearing [on their membership], why should a self-respect homosexual be treated any differently?"
Toya is a bit more blunt in how she takes on the issue of straight members being comfortable with lesbians as sorority members.
"I tell them they need to get over themselves," said Toya. "As long as the [gay] member is standing by the ideals in your individual bylaws, what they do and how they do it should not be a deal. We may wear the same letters but we don't have the same background. Would you throw shade at a soror who is Catholic because she worships differently than you? I am at all times a Sister of Dove be it when I'm at home with my girlfriend or at a graduate meeting."
And as for the claim that lesbians are joining sororities in order to hit on straight members?
"Please!" Toya said, sarcastically. "Yes soror, you may be cute in your sorority gear, but most people don't approach other people unless there is a mutual spark or attraction. And if someone approaches you and you're not feeling them, just say no and keep it moving. LGBT people are not on the hunt waiting to pounce."
"I tell them that that reflects insecurity in their own sexuality," Hannah adds. "I'm approached by straight men all the time. Am I uncomfortable with it? Not really. I tell them I'm uninterested and go about my day. What's the difference? I don't understand the heterosexual lifestyle, but what does that have to do with friendship, sisterhood, or working towards the greater good of the black community?"
Both Hannah and Toya are comfortable being openly gay Black Greeks, but they acknowledge that a lot of gay Black Greeks stay in the closet. They're either uncomfortable letting their straight fraternal members know, or they like keeping their sexuality private.
"I come across gay member fairly often," Hannah said. "Some member of more prestigious chapters tend to keep themselves in the closet, while I also think campus culture plays a huge role. One Delta I know that crossed at my school came out to her line sisters and prophytes and was pretty much shunned. She doesn't stroll with them, she isn't a part of the neophyte's process, and only speaks to her line sisters with whom she was tight with before crossing. It's super sad. I thank God everyday I didn't have to experience anything of that sort."
On the local and chapter level, Hannah and Toya feel their organizations give gay and lesbian members great support, but they both feel that there could be more support on a national level. Each expresses a desire that their sexuality simply be considered just one facet of their individuality, and they hope their straight sorors ultimately judge them on how well they adhere to the ideals and principles of their respective sororities. And they each have a message to their fellow gay and lesbian Black Greeks.
"If your organization is as committed to its principles as one would hope to believe, and you have a true sisterhood or brotherhood with the other members, don't let being Greek hold you back," says Hannah. "Dealing with family, friends, church, society is one thing, but the members of your organization should certainly love you regardless. If not, there are more deeply rooted flaws than their homophobia."
Toya agrees. "Be strong my sisters and brothers and stay true to what made you commit to being a member of your organization. As long as you focus on being the best soror or frat, you will honor your founders. Don't those who aren't holding up the organization's ideal keep you from being you."
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Lawrence Ross is the author of the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. His newest book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, is a blunt and frank look at the historical and contemporary issue of campus racism on predominantly white college campuses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.