When you think of LGBTQ+ safe spaces in college, Greek houses probably aren’t the first places to come to mind.
However, several Greek organizations are trying to change the heteronormativity and LGBTQ+ intolerance often synonymous with fraternities and sororities. While GB fraternities have existed since the 1980s, Gamma Rho Lambda, the first LGBTQ+ sorority, was not founded until 2003.
Gamma Rho Lambda (GRL) was founded by 12 women at Arizona State University, and became a nationwide sorority in 2006. GRL now boasts 22 chapters nationally, and is inclusive towards LGBTQ+ and ally students of all genders, sexualities, races, and religions. The fact that GRL is open to all members of the LGBTQ+ community is very important; many queer-friendly sororities are more centered towards gay and bisexual women, and may not be as welcoming towards trans women and non-binary people. Jeanette Zuniga, the 2010 Vice President of GRL’s University of California in Los Angeles branch, says she joined GRL because, “I needed an organization to belong to, needed somewhere to call home.”
Students at other schools with GRL chapters have expressed similar sentiments for their desire to join the sorority.
“I never would have felt comfortable joining another sorority simply because I’m queer,” says Dax Fisher-Garibay, former senior at University of Texas-Austin.
GRL president at Tulane University, Sherrill Harrell, agrees. She says that “there is a specific type of student that Greek organizations look for and try to accept into their organizations so they can keep up a certain appearance,” and that LGBT students often don’t fit those standards.
While many LGBTQ+ students seek solace in their schools’ Gay Straight Alliances and other queer-friendly clubs, others crave the homeyness and comfort Zuniga mentions above. Members of sororities are called sisters for a reason; cohabitation with a group of like-minded girls creates a lasting sense of intimacy and friendship. Women return to their colleges for years after graduation to attend sorority reunions, and family lineages (or legacies) within a sorority are carefully tracked. Plus, many members credit their connections to Greek life with success in the workplace, and effective networking skills.
Pop culture also feeds into the desire to go Greek. Almost every American college movie features Greek life in some way, and it isn’t fair for LGBTQ+ students to feel they’re missing out on a traditional college experience simply because of their sexual orientation. Many of the events Greek organizations hold, such as formals which have an entrenched expectation that members will come with a straight date, are very heteronormative, and can leave LGBTQ+ members feeling even further on the fringes of the group.
“You get invited to those things because guys want to have sex with you,” says Samantha Jones, a Zeta Tau Alpha sister and former Elon University student. “When you’re out, it kind of limits you a little bit.” An LGBTQ+- and ally-specific sorority lessens this heteronormative pressure, and doesn’t impose rules on dates.
If you are an LGBTQ+ student looking to rush, but there are no queer-specific Greek organizations on your campus, don’t lose hope. Go to your school’s LGBTQ+ clubs, if there are any, and talk to members about their experiences with Greek life. You can also jump headfirst into rushing, just to get a feel of the different sororities without being bound to any one group. If all else fails, start your own, or a branch of an existing queer-friendly sorority. As founding sister of Theta Zeta Upsilon, Sarah Hansen, says, “Creating your own community can make it that much stronger; it’s something worth fighting for because it belongs to you.”