Sorority opens to transgender pledges

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Sorority opens to transgender pledges

CW File

Annie Milbourn

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From policy alterations to changing social norms, transgender rights have recently dominated the public consciousness. The entire state of North Carolina was recently engulfed in the issue throughout November’s election, where officials who passed a restrictive bathroom law faced a direct referendum on their choices. Now, the issue has made its way to college campuses, but not in bathrooms. Transgender rights are now an issue that is being tackled by large national Greek organizations.

The National President of Alpha Chi Omega Angela Costley Harris, announced on Friday, Feb. 17 through a letter and video that they will now accept as members “all who live and identify as women, regardless of their gender assigned at birth.”

According to the federal law known as Title IX, organizations such as sororities and fraternities are legally allowed to discriminate on membership based on sex. Before Alpha Chi Omega, only three sororities had formal policies stating they welcome transgender women: Kappa Kappa Gamma, Delta Gamma, and Sigma Sigma Sigma.

In the recent months, more and more have looked into their bylaws and some are now even changing them. When it comes down to accepting certain members, however, that is up to specific chapters.

The announcement responded to increasing requests from collegians and host campuses across the country to have a more inclusive approach. On campuses where transgender women are interested in joining a sorority, their chapters are now able to consider them for membership.

“If we are to continue to live in this important mission in today’s world, Alpha Chi Omega must be inclusive of all who live and identify as women, regardless of their gender assigned at birth,” Harris said in her statement.

With a recent expression in interest from chapter members from various parts of the country, the National Council finally decided to act upon it.

“These inquiries were not made out of fear or obligation; they were born from our sisters’ sincere desire to create a sorority experience that fully reflects the realities of today’s women, in today’s world,” it stated. “This announcement is about meeting our collegians where they are and responding to their calls for inclusion.”

The Alpha Upsilon Chapter of Alpha Chi Omega at the University of Alabama chose not to comment on the new policy.

Alpha Chi Omega’s National Member Standards will not change, and they will continue to recruit potential new members based on the same criteria as before. They also recognize with 230,000 members nationwide, not everyone is going to accept the new changes. But as gender identity evolves, NMS believes Alpha Chi Omega should as well.

Spectrum, the university’s LGBTQ Student Organization, also reacted to the news.

“While this decision by Alpha Chi Omega’s National Council is certainly a step in the right direction, policy change does not necessarily equal behavioral change,” said Spectrum president Alex Reeder, a senior majoring in chemical engineering and chemistry. “The onus is now on the members of Alpha Chi here on this campus to promote acceptance through their daily actions for this policy change to combat the transphobia present at UA and have a significant impact on our campus climate overall.”

Reeder believes that if the leaders of Alpha Chi embrace the policy change with open arms, they are hopeful that similar actions will be taken by other Greek organizations in the coming months.

But according to the National Panhellenic Conference, as sovereign entities, the member organizations of the NPC are free to define women in any way they choose. “The only over-arching standard is that the 26 sororities that are member organizations of the National Panhellenic Conference are all-women’s organizations,” the NPC stated.

The University responded in a similar manner. “The University of Alabama allows anyone that identifies as female to participate in the sorority recruitment process,” the statement said. “The Alabama Panhellenic Association does not dictate policies regarding prospective members, rather decisions regarding individual membership criteria are left to the discretion of the NPC member sororities, each of which is a self-governing organization.”

Although standards for membership in traditional Greek organizations may not change in the immediate future, there are national sororities and fraternities specific for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women.

But for the bigger national chapters, there have been repeated discrepancies over the controversy. In November 2016, 47 members of the Alpha Omicron Pi chapter at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts protested after being told to “hold off” inviting a transgender woman to join.

Last month, Adam Davies, who was assigned the female sex at birth but who identifies as male, attempted to recieve a bid from a sorority at Northwestern University. With the fear of not being accepted into a fraternity, he sought to join a sorority. Nobody ended up extending him a bid, and it is still unclear whether it is due to gender identity since each chapter’s decisions are private.

“The vibe was — as far as I could tell — we would love to have you, but we can’t,” Davies told the Chicago Tribune.

Alpha Chi Omega is recognizing that all members may not embrace the decision. They exist to empower strong women and accept that all women may not agree. They believe diversity in their values and beliefs is a valuable part of their sisterhood experience.

“I hope you will stand with me, and the rest of the National Council, in embracing Alpha Chi Omega’s inclusive approach,” Harris said.