Correction Appended (4/13/05): The headline should have said “Greeks address homophobia.” The subhead for the story should have said “Those at event felt many LGBT students perceive the community as intolerant.” The mistake was due to a printing error.
In an effort to bring the Greek community closer with the LGBT community on campus, the multicultural sorority Zeta Sigma Chi sponsored an event last night that aimed to raise awareness of the issue of homophobia in the Greek system.
Titled “Homophobia in The Greek Community,” the event took place at the Michigan League to address a “topic that’s been out there but no one has addressed,” said LSA senior and Zeta Sigma Chi president Nagmeh Shariadtamadar.
Many students at the event said a central issue for LGBT students who wish to join or are already part of the Greek community is the perception that it does not tolerate homosexuality.
This perception stems from stereotypes about the Greek community, Shariadtamadar said, adding that there is a tendency among the public to associate the Greek community with images of “hyper-masculine” or “hyper-feminine” members.
The perceived homophobia of the Greek community detracts LGBT members from joining it or, once in, from “coming out,” said students at the event. As a result, University alum and Zeta Sigma Chi member Rebekah Blonshine said, LGBT students do not feel comfortable sharing their true selves with these organizations.
“Society brings out new words to describe anything that deviates from the stereotypical man or woman, two extremities, and if you are in the middle you are perceived as something else,” said LSA junior Melissa Warton.
Zeta Sigma Chi members said many members of the LGBT community wish to join fraternities and sororities for the same reasons as their heterosexual counterparts – reasons such as friendship, camaraderie, social activities and educational purposes, among others.
But, in part due to the stereotype of homophobia surrounding the Greek community, LGBT members on campuses nationwide have created homosexual fraternities and sororities, said members at the event.
This has both a negative and positive side, said LSA freshman Cherine Foty, who is also a member of Zeta Sigma Chi.
“Although this can empower minority and homosexual Greek organizations, it can also segregate the organizations from the mainstream Greek community.” Foty said. She explained that this further divides the LGBT community from the Greek community and prevents fraternities and sororities from resolving the homophobic climate.
Blonshine, who is a lesbian, was back in town to attend the event, which she said made her proud of belonging to the sorority. She stressed the role of straight people as being “instrumental in breaking down homophobia within the Greek community.” “People think that gay people must be the voice for the gay community, but when it comes from a heterosexual member, it means a lot more,” she added.
Mary Stewart, an LSA sophomore and member of Zeta Sigma Chi, said there are LGBT members in her sorority. “We are very involved in making sure we support them by being their ‘allies,’ ” Stewart said.
Currently, the Greek community has no programs specifically geared toward resolving the issue. In the winter of 1994, the Panhellenic Association and Interfraternity Council issued a “Statement for Human Dignity,” which stated that “We encourage programming to increase the awareness of and combat activities detracting from Human Dignity, especially those that are demeaning, or degrading to women and men.”
The Strategic Plan 2010 by the University of Michigan Greek Community, however, has no mention of the issue of homophobia.
Panhel spokeswoman Lindsay Fediuk said that on the issue of homophobia, “no specific programming is planned as of yet to address this specific issue however, we realize that this issue is important.”
“The program was a great first step in educating the Greek community on the issue they may or may not think about on a daily basis,” IFC spokesman Jon Krasnov said.
Many fraternities and sororities at the national level have made statements against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
In response, LSA senior and member of Zeta Sigma Chi Kelly Sappington said, “You can write down any rule, but unless people don’t embrace it, it means nothing.”
Shariadtamadar said the event was a “great success,” as both Greeks and non-Greeks interacted in the dialogue. IFC and Panhel were present as well, and a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority took down information from Zeta Sigma Chi to promote educational programs in her own organization.