Fraternities and Sororities, they are a part of the college and adult experience, you can’t avoid it. Within the black community, many see fraternities and sororities as a rite of passage, since most of heritage and culture has been stripped away due to slavery and assimilation to European beauty and culture. Whether you are a member or someone like me who has friends and family members who are members (I have a distant relative, who has passed, who was a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., and my oldest sister is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.), fraternities and sororities have a connection to you and had an affect on you, good or bad. For those who have had an indifferent experience, some shy away from them, some trash the idea of fraternities and sororities, then there are those who take matters into their own hands.
Being gay and being in a Greek organization has been a hot button topic for some time. I remember when one of my friends was the first openly, gay student, to cross into the chapter of his fraternity and it was a big deal. This topic has been talked about in magazines, newspapers, television shows, even my sister, Ashley Stone, discussed this in her thesis on the examination of race, violence, and sexuality in fraternities. What has not been discussed is a growing trend of Greek organization dedicated to the LGBT community. Some organizations have been around for 10 to 15 years and been sort of under the radar, but thanks to social media, unfortunately, they are now in the spotlight.
When photos of Omicron Psi Omega Fraternity Inc. circulated on Facebook, many members of the Divine 9, and the black community took to social media to voice their outrage on not only the organization but the organization's colors and hand symbols, which closely resemble the ones of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., a Divine Nine fraternity. Not too long after that, other LGBT Greek organizations have been verbally attacked and became victims of social media bullying, causing online controversy.
Stacy Coley, a member of Sigma Nu Beta Inc., and the chapter President of the Beta Alpha Chapter, was not immune to the comments and online harassment. She sat down with us and gave us details on her experience with the online controversy as well an insight on LGBT Organizations and why she joined one.
Tell us about your childhood and upbringing.
I was born in Buffalo, New York, but when my parents got a divorce, we moved to Lake County, Florida, which is about 40 minutes west of Orlando. My mother remarried so I had my father and step-father in my life. My family was involved with the church so that played a role definitely.
When did you first realized or know you were gay?
I realized I was gay when I was in kindergarten when I use to always want to help the cute little girls instead of the boys. Growing up, I never told anyone because I was told being gay was wrong, so I suppressed my feelings and I allowed myself to have a crush on a guy, who was a feminine guy. I had a feeling some people already knew since I went to the school with the same people from pre-k to high school, but I never came out to anyone until college.
Fast forward to college, where did you go, and how was your experience as an LGBT member then? Being that you’re in college and you’re practically an adult, did you find it easier to express yourself?
After graduating high school in 1999, I went to FAMU, and I felt this new freedom. Most of my family members worked in the school I was in growing up, so now I had space away from my family and I experienced new things on my own. I dated a girl for the first time in college; I still didn’t tell my friends from school, but I came out to my mother my sophomore year, I remember her asking me had I been with a girl, I said no, and she said I could fight it and since I didn’t want to “go to hell”, I tried to fight it off, but after reading the bible myself, I learned that I wasn’t going to hell. The more questions my mother asked, which included “are you still hanging with those people?”, I kind of stopped talking to her and kept my distance, but when she stopped approaching the situation, our relationship got better and now we are in a better place.
During college, were you ever interested in a BGLO? If so, what made you interested, or what made you not want to join, if you weren’t interested?
Yeah, being on campus, seeing step shows, and just seeing the different orgs made me interested. I also have a lot of family in the Divine Nine, but I knew if I wanted to be an AKA or a Delta, I would have to change who I was, and I wasn’t willing to change or willing to be in that situation.
Fast forward to now, you are a member of Sigma Nu Beta Inc. What is Sigma Nu Beta, and what is the purpose of the organization?
Sigma Nu Beta Inc. is a Greek-letter organization that was founded in 2006. Our purpose to give other women of the LGBT community options to check out when it comes to Greek life. We are trying to show other people we are not just trying to look like thugs, we are showing a different side of the stereotype. We are trying to better our community, be united, and allow others to be comfortable with who they are.
How did you first hear about Sigma Nu Beta? What sparked your interested in this organization and made you want to join?
I heard about the organization in 2007. I was a part of their Alpha line. What interest me was the message and the purpose they had which I thought was great and aligned with my beliefs.
What are some of the benefits you’ve experienced as a member? What are some great memories you have with your members?
The greatest benefit would be having the support I wouldn’t have gotten from my family. I remember one incident I was leaving an event, and some guys were verbally bashing me and I reacted, and my members came out and tried to calm me down. So I’m sitting in my car, heated, and I heard this loud sound like someone’s been shot. Come to find out they tried to bust the window in my car. When I told my mother about it the next day, she wasn’t comforting in the way I needed her to be, but the Sigmas helped me repair my window. That’s one of the memories that stand out to me.
What position do you have now in the organization and what are your goals for the organization or your chapter?
I am currently the president of the Beta Alpha chapter. Right now our goal is to get the name out there and hopefully get more member.
Being that your organization is 10 years old and fairly new, what are some of the challenges you face not only as a member, as well as the President of the Beta Alpha chapter?
Well starting the Beta Alpha chapter and getting members is a challenge within itself. Many people in my area aren’t familiar with it. The chapter in Tallahassee has a line at least once a year, whereas, our chapter has had four lines since 2009.
This summer, LGBT Greek organizations have been under scrutiny after pictures of another LGBT Greek Organization, Omicron Psi Omega Inc, surfaced on social media. The organization was criticized for their organization's colors and hand gestures, which closely resembled the ones of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Due to this, other LGBT Greek Organizations have been confronted by members of the Divine 9 and became victims of bullying on social media. Before we talk about this from Greek perspective, I want to know as a queer person of color, did you see the photos and comments yourself, and what was your initial reaction?
My first reaction was it’s unfortunate the level of disrespect and hate. Social media has no filter and it was in full effect that day. On a personal level, I see where the conflict is on both sides (Omega Psi Phi and Omicron Psi Omega). There are so many ways our emotions could have been communicated, and it just didn’t happen that way. I was just thinking like “man why can’t people of color have to bash each other?”.
As a member of Sigma Nu Beta, how has that incident affected you and your organization?
After the controversy with the Omicron Psi Omega Inc., the Divine Nine went on a witch-hunt. They would go on the website, went on the org’s Facebook page, and even the Facebook pages of the members, taking pictures, making their comments and tagging us in it. They would take pictures and compare our signs to another orgs (which is why we make it point to show the correct hand sign because, from another angle, it could look the same). I remember one incident where a video was shown of an org practicing for a step show. One of the members said. "play that again", and when the song was playing it sounded like she was saying “GoMab”, and people were commenting asking did she say, “GoMab”, and people were like “yeah that’s what she said”, and even after we cleared it up, people still didn’t believe us. As a chapter President, I would handle most of the PR stuff, and I would go and find things we were tagged in, and clear things up. Eventually, I made a statement on the org’s page and encouraged our members to post it on their personal page. The statement was explaining why we were founded and we are not trying to be a “lesbian version” of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. In fact, we work closely with the Divine Nine. We also sent out emails and hard copy letters to the National Pan-Hellenic Council and to the Phi Beta Sigma National Headquarters about the actions of their members, and we have gotten no response.
With the incident with Omicron Psi Omega did you feel as if the backlash kind of exposed the homophobia that goes on in the D9?
I do believe the incident exposed homophobia within the hearts of some Divine 9 members. I know all members and chapters don't feel this way but when bullying takes place, the shock factor always increases! So, for instance, the complaints went from attacking hand gestures to attacking physical characteristics. Uncalled for in my opinion. There's always a silver lining, though. I hope that the homophobia displayed showed the ignorance and ugliness of those bullies hearts and I hope those close to them offered feedback on changing for the better!
Being that this incident has caused many to be victims of bullying and homophobia, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from this?
Be confident in who you are and what you are doing.
What do you want to tell people who are making discouraging remarks about you and your organization? What do you hope they learn?
People need to learn to have more compassion, research what someone is telling you, and research why these orgs are here and still here even if you believe the Divine Nine is the end all be all. Also, get an understanding of LGBTQ issues because attacking something you don’t understand is wrong.
First, I want to thank you Mr. Stone for giving us this opportunity, anytime we get a platform to speak on our organization we are happy about it. I also want to let everyone know again, we are a viable option for masculine lesbians, we are here to better the community one city at a time, and we are seeking to expand. If you want to know more about us go to www.sigmanubetainc.org.