How do transgender students fit into gendered Fraternity and Sorority Life?
In fall 2011, Elle Mallon went through recruitment to join a fraternity at the University of Oregon. However, Mallon didn’t feel like there was a spot for her.
“There were some guys who would say ‘no homo’ or ‘that’s so gay’ or use ‘gay’ as an insult,” Mallon said. “Some queer people have had bad experiences with ‘bro’ culture and don’t want to be in that space.”
After five events, Mallon stopped going through recruitment.
For LGBTQA students like Mallon, joining gendered fraternities and sororities can be daunting. It’s an issue Fraternity and Sorority Life has been talking about, according to Director of FSL Justin Shukas.
“Chapters have come to me with questions about transgender students joining,” Shukas said. “We have worked with the LGBTESSP on how to educate chapters and what policies would apply.”
FSL is legally protected by an exemption from Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 to stay gendered as single-sex organizations, according to Shukas. National headquarters have the autonomy to establish their own membership standards.
In any cases involving discrimination or bias, the case is handled by staff in the Office of the Dean of Students and students are directed to the Bias Response Team to fill out a report about their experience.
For Mallon — who now identifies as trans femme — instead of reporting her unwelcoming experience in FSL, she chose to start a gender-inclusive Greek-letter organization, Theta Pi Sigma, which began in 2012 and is a chance for LGBTQA students to participate in the fraternity and sorority scene and be activists for the LGBTQA community on and off-campus.
Theta Pi Sigma focuses on inclusion on a broad scope that takes in UO students from all different backgrounds.
“We accept people who are strong activists for queer and trans people,” Marina Morrison, vice president of member education, said about the acceptance process.
Theta Pi Sigma’s most recent work has involved advocating ASUO Senate for gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Education and Support Services and other supporters.
54 percent of transgender individuals have experienced health complications as a result of no gender-neutral bathroom access, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
“We are really focused on mainly Greek Life and UO (for) a more inclusive community for queer, trans, disabled, low-income people being excluded and bringing them in,” Mallon said.
Theta Pi Sigma struggles, however, with low membership. There are currently five members, the minimum for an FSL organization.
“We need to keep existing,” Morrison said.
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