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Greek, LGBT sorority women work to combine best of both worlds

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Greek, LGBT sorority women work to combine best of both worlds

Potential new members head into Foellinger Auditorium to meet with their recruitment counselors before receiving their official sorority bids.

Potential new members head into Foellinger Auditorium to meet with their recruitment counselors before receiving their official sorority bids.

Daily Illini File Photo

Potential new members head into Foellinger Auditorium to meet with their recruitment counselors before receiving their official sorority bids.

Daily Illini File Photo

Daily Illini File Photo

Potential new members head into Foellinger Auditorium to meet with their recruitment counselors before receiving their official sorority bids.

By Karen Liu, Staff Writer

Four sorority members are working to help LGBT women feel more comfortable in the Greek community.

Claire Oosterbaan and Sarrah Spohnholtz from Alpha Chi Omega, Teresa Anderson from Kappa Delta and Devin Weiss from Alpha Delta Pi founded LGBTGreek last semester.

LGBTGreek provides a safe space for LGBT members within the Greek system, Oosterbaan said. LGBTGreek is trying to make the Greek system more open toward students identifying as LGBT.

“We just keep hearing these really moving narratives of individuals being like, ‘I’m gay and in Greek life. I don’t know if there’s more out there or are those two mutually exclusive,’” Weiss said.

However, not everyone shared positive experiences of being queer in the Greek system.

Oosterbaan said she had a relatively hard time coming out.

Oosterbaan said a girl who identified as LGBT had to drop out of her sorority because she felt unwelcomed.

The national headquarters of Alpha Chi Omega recently released an inclusive message toward LGBT members, Oosterbaan said; however, the University has no resources specifically for LGBT members in the Greek system.

The founders hope that through an organization like LGBTGreek, members of the LGBT community would be less hesitant to join the Greek system, and instead find support and acceptance.

“A sorority, by definition, is women coming together to empower other women,” Weiss said. “That is why I joined a sorority, and I feel very empowered within my own sorority.”

Anderson and Weiss both said that being an LGBT member in the Greek system is an overall positive experience.

“I just recently came out last year, and I’ve faced zero hatred or any sort of thoughts towards me because of my sexuality,” Anderson said.

Weiss said she received more negative remarks from the LGBT community about being in Greek life rather than people in the Greek system disaffirming her because she is a part of the LGBT community.

“It’s such an affirming place,” said Weiss. “I have nothing but exceptional experiences of being gay and in Greek life.”

“The four of us are all seniors, and we found through our time at U of I that we are a part of two organizations that are seemingly completely separate,” Anderson said. “People don’t necessarily put the two together. If you’re in one, you can’t be in the other or vice versa.”

According to Anderson, the organization is mainly a social group. It hopes to provide a casual setting where people can come together and talk about things their straight friends may not understand.

LGBTGreek has over 30 members from various sororities. On a campus with the largest Greek system in the country and a prominent LGBT community, it is not uncommon for the two to overlap, Weiss said. However, the exact number cannot be determined.

“Sexuality is fluid and recent estimates have shown that anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of the population is LGBTQ,” Weiss said. “I personally know six or seven women who are not comfortable coming out yet.”

Weiss referred to a study published by Washington Week titled LGBT American: “By the numbers,” which stated that approximately 3.5 percent of Americans identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual while 0.3 percent are transgender. The 19 panhellenic chapters on campus have an average of 200 girls per sorority, according to Weiss.

“I would put my life on saying that there’s at least one LGBTQ member in every single panhellenic chapter on this campus,” Weiss said.

Anderson said many people end up feeling like they don’t belong in either the LGBT community or the Greek system.

“There’s definitely still a substantial amount of women who may not feel comfortable, and that’s kind of the purpose of this group, which is to say, ‘We’re here, and we can be here for you if you need it,’” Anderson said.

Oosterbaan said the founders are hoping the organization can gain consistency by becoming a registered student organization.

“We want to leave a legacy behind that our community is exceptionally accepting and warm,” Weiss said. “We want to break the stereotype that Greek life is just heteronormative and very exclusive.”

Spohnholtz said LGBTGreek hopes to incorporate fraternity members who identify as LGBT in the future. Although the group is targeted toward LGBT members, allies are also welcome.

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A previous version of this story said a sorority member dropped out of Alpha Chi Omega because she felt unwelcomed as an LGBT member. She was actually in a different, unnamed sorority. 

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