Students launch co-ed LGBT fraternity interest group

Sigma Omicron Rho hopes to increase diversity of University

Fourth-year College students Christi Thomas and Carl Thompson are starting a co-ed lesbian-, gay-, bisexual-, transgender-interest fraternity called Sigma Omicron Rho to allow the University's queer community to feel included in the Greek community, Thomas said.\nAn excerpt from Sigma Omicron Rho's constitution states that the goals of the fraternity are "to increase the diversity of the Greek community through its promotion of queer pride, awareness and social activism."\nVice President Molly Conger said that while there are organizations that advocate queer culture on Grounds, such as Queer and Allied Activism, these organizations tend to focus on political activism and less on "social activism."\n"We just feel like there's a niche within the University that we could fill," Conger said.\nAlthough there are national queer sororities and fraternities, Thomas said she felt that a single-gendered organization would not be able to fully encompass the character of the LGBT communities.\n"Intrinsically, the idea of being queer transcends gender," she said.\nBecause of an exception in Title IX, the Inter-Fraternity Council and Inter-Sorority Council reserve the right to keep sororities and fraternities single-gendered, said Michael Citro, assistant dean of fraternity and sorority life.\n"Most co-ed groups are governed by the CIO [contracted independent organization] with the University, not an FOA [fraternal organization agreement]," Citro said.\nThomas said she hopes that the organization will be a part of the Multicultural Greek Council.\nAlong with providing a social community that members of the LGBT communities and its allies can enjoy, the fraternity plans to engage in philanthropic activities similar to many other Greek organizations, which Conger said Thomas is spearheading.\nSome of the social activities include a 5k race for marriage equality, a laser tag event in the Amphitheater with an LGBT-oriented educational component, barbecues, wine tastings and LBGT History Month.\nThe interest group also plans to include "allied members" - heterosexual supporters of the queer community - in the fraternity, but Thomas warns that this fraternity is indeed a queer organization.\n"We don't plan to water anything down," she said, "so the allied members that do rush should be prepared for total immersion into queer culture."\nEven though Thomas' contacts in the LGBT communities are supportive of the group, they remain skeptical of mixing Greek life with queer life.\n"I'm expecting backlash," she said. "We plan to hold ourselves to the highest standard and to be recognized ... as a legitimate Greek organization."\nThomas explained that a dissatisfied rush experience with the Inter-Sorority Council drove her to start a queer Greek organization.\nThomas, who said she has been open about her sexual orientation since she was 14 years old, wanted to join a sorority on Grounds her first year but felt like she had to "hide certain aspects of who I am" during the ISC rush process.\n"In not so many words, I was told I would have to stay hush about [my sexual orientation]," she said.\nISC Council President Kelly McLaughlin said the ISC makes every effort to create an open and welcoming environment during recruitment by reaching out to all women interested in joining the Greek community. She added that she hopes each rush participant has a positive experience and feels comfortable during the process.\n"The founding of Sigma Omicron Rho is an excellent example of the strength of student self-governance," McLaughlin said. "While the ISC is a diverse and inclusive community, it always has room for growth, and perhaps this demonstrates that our outreach and efforts to welcome women into our chapters can become even stronger."\nConger hopes that the new Greek organization can work in harmony with the rest of the queer organizations on Grounds.\n"We encourage our members to remain or become involved with other LGBT organizations, projects and initiatives," she said. "I can't wait to get this off the ground. It's something I'm really invested in."\nThe group is still in the early stages of organization. The leaders will meet with Citro and recruit more members before holding an interest meeting next week.\n-Bethel Habte contributed to this story

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