Student organizations address LGBT issues

By Mary Zemaitis

Two new registered student organizations, Greek Allies and Colors of Pride, are seeking to counteract homophobia and address Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues in communities that commonly ignore them.

Greek Allies, an organization comprised of people in and outside of the Greek system, wants to break the homophobic stereotype of Greek life and the LGBT community, said Brenda Lo, member of Alpha Delta Phi and junior in LAS.

“Greek Allies is not an activist program; it’s an educational program,” said David Stefanski, member of Phi Sigma Kappa and sophomore in LAS.

Members of the organization, which began last year, receive training on how to be an ally; they then facilitate workshops with Greek houses, Lo said.

Stefanski said that Greek Allies has activities to simulate the experiences of someone who is coming out, in order to gain a respect and understanding for LGBT people.

“(They) reenact what you have to give up when you come out,” Stefanski said.

Colors of Pride provides a safe space for LGBT and questioning students of color to discuss what people of color face in society, said Sara Clemons, graduate student and assistant at the Office for LGBT Concerns. A questioning student is one who is not sure of their sexual orientation.

Colors of Pride is an informal, discussion-based group. Any student can come to the meetings, which take place on Mondays from 8 to 9:30 p.m. in the Office for LGBT concerns. Clemons said the group goes to hear speakers and will be attending “New Age Racism,” a program from Allen Hall’s Guest-in-Residence Elaine Brown, at 8 p.m. on Monday. Colors of Pride will also send students to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change conference.

“The focus (of the conference) is creating an antiracist movement (with in the LGBT community),” said Khristian Kemp-Delisser, the assistant director of the LGBT office.

Colors of Pride started at the beginning of last year when it noticed that the needs of LGBT students of color were not being met in existing LGBT support groups.

“In communities of color, high stigma is attached to being LGBT,” said Clemons. “For example, in the African American community, there is high stigma due to hyper-masculinity issues and sexism.”

The two groups may have different strategies for their common goals, but members of both groups notice the homophobia inherent in society.

Words people commonly use are often offensive to LGBT people, Stefanski said.

“Nobody says ‘that’s so straight,'” Lo added.

Hip-hop culture also has underground rap battles in which derogatory words describing homosexual people are used as insults, Clemons said.

“I’m not blaming hip-hop, but that’s just one of the aspects of it,” she said. “People who listen to that constantly might follow it.”

Greeks Allies also wants to improve the Greek system as a whole.

“Greeks have so many bad stereotypes,” said Lo, “and we want to break that too.”

When people think of Greek members, they often think of drunks, offensive people or someone from Animal House, Stefanski said.

“We’re trying to make our system better because you can’t take on the whole world,” said Lo.

Greek Allies plans on expanding by running workshops in the dorms, Stefanski said. They also plan to do more fundraising for possible speakers and sponsor awareness events with the Illini Union Board, Stefanski said.

Colors of Pride defends criticism that it is segmenting the LGBT community.

“We have not broken off … we’re a branch of (the LGBT community),” Clemons said. “We’re just providing what was not there.”