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.”