Historically Black Colleges were founded in the early 20th Century to educate, support and empower the Black community during a time when education was legally, socially, and financially exclusive and unequal.
Within these institutions, as a way of further empowering students, creating tight knit support networks, and providing valuable professional mentorship opportunities, a number of Black Greek organizations also emerged.
Where images in the media rarely, if ever, include those of LGBT women (or people) of color, within sororities and fraternities, I hoped to further explore this world by speaking directly with a sorority sister about her experience being a Black lesbian.
Mercedes, an openly queer, comfortable, and confident member of Sigma Gamma Rho — who also made it known she identified as a lesbian prior to pledging — graciously allowed us to interview her on her experiences within Black Greek life.
How have members of your chapter responded to learning about your sexual orientation?
My chapter was very accepting. I knew a few members before I became Greek and they knew I was a lesbian so from what I could tell that wasn’t a problem.
How have other Greeks on your campus responded?
To my surprise it wasn’t a big deal. Especially with my sands (people who became Greek the same semester as I) I wasn’t any different. To me I didn’t make it a big deal because in all honestly it isn’t. I’m a lesbian, yes. And? How does that make me any less qualified to be a part of an organization? I didn’t hide it and I think that is what was respected. I also never cared what the campus thought. I heard some rumors that some people were wondering why they let me in and if I was going to adjust to be a “woman” in an organization. Those people were ignored by me and it never bothered me.
Have other chapters of your sorority responded?
Not really, but every Chapter I have been to in the midwest has had at least one gay member.
How do other LGBTQ people respond to your membership in a Divine Nine organization?
They want to know if it’s hard because of who I am. Again, for me it’s not a big deal because this is who I am. I’ve been this way my whole life so I’m pretty comfortable with it. It’s not an accessory or a trait I have. It’s not my lifestyle or a choice I made. It’s my life. It’s me. And once people understand that then they can stop making such a big deal about it.
What is important to you about these two aspects of your identity? Do you see them as separate or interlinked?
The most important thing about being a lesbian to me is that I never want to forget how hard it is. I make it seem easy because I don’t value the negative opinions of others but it wasn’t easy when I was younger. Especially coming out to my friends so its important to me that I remember that and that I try and help others who aren’t as free flowing in nature as I. As far as Sigma, it’s important that I always remain about the community. So with that I interlink all of who I am. Sigma, Homosexuality and Acting. I actually have done a program with my chapter for the past two semesters called 15 under 25 about all of the LGBT youth that have been beaten/murdered under the age of 25. We won program of the year for that, which was really awesome!
What would you tell a person who’s queer and considering pledging, or in a Greek org and considering coming out?
Whew, that’s a tough one. I wish I could say always be yourself and do it no matter what, but I can’t. Every chapter is not like Delta Rho and every Campus is not like U of I. Most importantly, not every org is like Sigma Gamma Rho. Most orgs are only accepting of people up until a certain point. Especially with the gay issue. A lot of people are scared to confront it because of popularity. They don’t want to lose potential members because one of their sorors or frat brothers is gay.
My advice to Greeks is, anyone who doesn’t want to be a part of your org because you have a gay member is a coward and shouldn’t be Greek in the first place. Secondly, what kind of person are you if popularity is your concern? So I guess I would just say to anyone interested in becoming Greek and they are LGBT, is to look into it. See who the people are. Get to know them and if you feel good about it, go for it! If you’re Greek and in the closet, come out. It’s rather simple. You made a bond right? To always have your bros/sis’ back no matter what? Trust them enough be who you are. If some of them change then you know who your real friends/bros/sis’ are. It’s simple.
What is your perception of Black Greek Sororities? Where did you get these perceptions from? Do you know of any other gay black Greek organizations that are effectively addressing homophobia within Greek culture?