Thursday, September 14, 2006
September 2006 TransGriot Column
New Greeks On The Block
Copyright 2006, THE LETTER
One hundred years ago on December 4, 1906, Alpha Phi Alpha, the first African-American intercollegiate fraternity was born on the Ithaca, NY campus of Cornell University. In 1908 the Howard University campus witnessed the birth of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first African-American sorority. Omega Psi Phi Fraternity in 1911, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in 1913 and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity in 1914 would soon join AKA on the Howard U campus in addition to Phi Beta Sigma’s sister organization, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority in 1920.
The state of Indiana can claim two orgs that were founded within its borders. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity on the IU campus in 1911 and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority at Butler University in 1922. Several decades later came the 1963 founding of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity on the Morgan State University campus.
These organizations have been responsible for much of the progress that our people have made over the last century. If there’s an African-American making history or breaking new ground in society you can bet that nine times out of ten they are members of one of those organizations. Their membership ranks include people such as current Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Martin Luther King, Michael Jordan, Dr. Mae Jemison, Aretha Franklin, Spencer Christian, George Washington Carver, Nelson Mandela and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
The Divine Nine have always had members past and present who are GLBT such as Harlem Renaissance poet and Alpha Phi Alpha member Countee Cullen and Zeta Phi Beta’s Zora Neale Hurston. Unfortunately the historical significance, cultural importance and power of these organizations has created a climate in which these organizations have yet to openly embrace their past and present GLBT members despite their intimate
involvement with the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice issues. They are also grappling with homophobia within their ranks.
Possibly in reaction to this reticence and the homophobia, the late 20th and early 21st century has witnessed the formation of a cluster of Greek organizations that are openly GLBT. Like the Divine Nine orgs, they seek brotherhood and sisterhood with each other and wish to continue the historic Black Greek mission of uplifting our race. There is even a governing body similar to the National Pan Hellenic Council called the International Alternative Greek Council.
The formation of Delta Phi Upsilon on the Florida State University campus was the beginning of the GLBT Greek movement. Trevor Charles, Ronald D. Powell, Kenneth LeGrone, Victor M. Cohen and Hamilton Barnes had a vision for gay men of color to have their own bond of brotherhood on college campuses everywhere.
They fittingly got together on Dr. King’s birthday (January 15, 1985) and started the Alpha Chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon. Black gay men, tired of being rejected in their attempts to join the Divine Nine fraternities eagerly embraced the new organization. It rapidly grew to include chapters in other Florida cities, New York, Boston and Houston. The Delts celebrated their 20th anniversary last year.
Fifteen years later Lakisha Goss, Janiece Smith, Michelle McCallum and Stefany Richards decided to form a sorority for lesbian women of color. On February 7, 2000 Iota Lambda Pi Sorority was born. During the planning process they realized that an organization that catered to dominant lesbian women was desperately needed. They renamed Iota Lambda Pi as a fraternity and gave it the mission to change the negative stereotypes placed upon butch/stud women and establish a safe haven for them. Lakisha and Janiece subsequently formed Omicron Epsilon Pi Sorority for feminine lesbians.
Other organizations such as Sigma Kappa Tau, Kappa Xi Omega, and Alpha Psi Kappa Fraternity have followed the trail blazed by these pioneering organizations.
These new Greeks on the block may be small in number now, but their founders have big plans for them. They are taking a page out of our history books and are following the road map that the Divine Nine organizations used in the early 20th century to build themselves up to become the African-American icons they are today.
Here’s hoping that these GLBT Greek organizations exceed their wildest dreams in terms of not only uplifting the African-American GLBT community, but all Africn-Americans and the GLBT community as well.