Lauren Ferguson

Audrey Ferguson, left, and art history and English senior Lauren Ferguson are vice president and president of Gamma Rho Lambda. This new sorority aims to create an open and educated environment for the LGBT community.
Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

UT students established a campus colony of the national sorority Gamma Rho Lambda this semester — the first queer-focused and transsexual-inclusive women’s Greek society at the University, according to the organization’s leadership.

The sorority aims to combat issues regarding the status of queer women in mainstream society and within the LGBT community, Lauren Ferguson, president of the colony and art history and English senior, said. As part of the three-semester colonization process, the organization’s leaders recruited nine members this semester for the Alpha class and will start taking pledges in the fall.

Founding members hope the colony will create a space to improve the quality of dialogue between the LGBT community and social conservatives, according to neuroscience and psychology senior Shelby Dax Fisher-Garibay, the sorority’s new member mother — a type of recruitment leader.

”I think the biggest thing we can do is education,” Fisher-Garibay said. “If we are educated about what the [conservative] opinions are and the best responses to those arguments, then, hopefully, we can bring a more educational dialogue to the table instead of just hateful banter back and forth.”

The colony will also tackle issues of transphobia within the queer community, an occurrence which leads to the exclusion of transsexuals in spaces that ought to be trans-inclusive, Ferguson, who is also a columnist for The Daily Texan, said.

“There are a lot of really awesome women’s or LGBT organizations [on campus], but they are either really specifically for, say, LGBT women of color or they are non-trans-inclusive,” Ferguson said. “One of the tenants of [Gamma Rho Lambda] is that no one is excluded, and the only requirement is that you identify as a woman. A lot of the feminism movement and the LGBT community does not want to include trans-women into the queer spectrum because there is a lot of transphobia within [those communities] as well.”

One of the reasons that LGBT-specific Greek organizations exist is because queer individuals have traditionally been rejected from larger Greek organizations, Leo Rodriguez, president of the University’s first LGBT fraternity, Delta Lambda Phi, said.

“Gay men trying to join predominantly straight fraternities were not accepted, and oftentimes, it was just because they were gay, so there was discrimination,” Rodriguez said. “Even among men who were progressive, it just felt uncomfortable.”

Allison Young, president of the University Panhellenic Council, disagrees with this view, at least when it comes to UT sororities.

"Our recruitment is solely based on women finding places they feel comfortable and excited to call their home away from home, regardless of sexual orientation," Young said. "Our community is open and welcoming to all women." 

Representatives from the Interfraternity Council were contacted for comment multiple times but did not respond. 

Fisher-Gariby said the colony anonymously received hate mail during the early period of its formation, even though the University community has mostly welcomed the sorority.

“We are not getting approached on the street or anything like that, but there definitely has been some resentment expressed,” Fisher-Garibay said. “When Lauren Ferguson was attempting to find interest [for] the group, some people had responded to the email on the flyer with hate mail about why this organization should not exist.”

Society often stereotypes Greek organizations and the LGBT community, so the sorority will help improve the image of both parties, according to Maggie Rake, new member educator and Middle Eastern languages and cultures senior.

 “Having a sorority that is welcoming to queer women is really valuable, especially because so much of Greek life is stereotyped,” Rake said. “As both queer people and Greek people, we will be able to break those stereotypes because there is such a wide range of students who identify as queer.”

Dancing in front of a live audience while belting out “Sweet Transvestite” may sound ridiculous and terrifying, but to the Queerios, it sounds like a typical Saturday night.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” came out in 1975, and audiences quickly started participating by yelling lines and acting out their favorite scenes. Decades later, the Queerios continue to perform “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” every Saturday night at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Village location. Selling out every week, especially around Halloween, the cast of 20 works hard to call lines and get the audience involved in the tradition.

Lauren Ferguson, art history and English junior, joined the Queerios as a techie and now plays the movie’s most flamboyant character, Dr. Franke-N-furter, a transvestite mad scientist. Ferguson said her involvement has helped her learn how to disregard the negative opinions of others. 

“It’s a place where you can start feeling normal about yourself — whether that be a super sexual deviant or just not feeling awkward,” Ferguson said.

J.C. Rudy, classics junior and member of the Queerios, said he looks forward to each Saturday show. 

“It’s one of the few places where you can be anything,” Rudy said. “If you want to go out and dress strange for a night, there’s no judgment.”

Rudy said each week they get a high number of Rocky Horror “virgins,” people who have never attended a live showing of Rocky
Horror before. 

“We have over 50 percent virgins every week,”  Rudy said, “We have to make sure we work a lot harder with all our callouts, making them more understandable and making sure you’re doing them all the time because the audience won’t be participating as much.”

The Queerios make money by selling buttons and prop bags, while the ticket profits go to the theater, according to Rudy. All members must complete eight weeks of tech before they are able to join the cast.

Wanting to be as screen-accurate as possible, the cast often has to buy their own costumes, Ferguson said. Finding a female corset in the prop box is a challenge because all of them are made for men.  

Madison Irby, a senior at Austin High School, got involved in Rocky Horror because her mother had been involved as a teenager. Irby said the show hasn’t changed much throughout the years and continues to encourage people to be themselves.

“The one message that’s really stuck with me is ‘Don’t dream it. Be it.’” Irby said. 

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year as the longest running movie in history. Rocky Horror’s adaptability and dedicated fans ensure it will continue to affect people and evoke
positive change.

“I take pride in who I am,” Ferguson said. “I don’t apologize for it anymore. It’s helped me embrace the freak, embrace the weird and be unapologetically me.”