When Kayla, 21, searched for a sorority in a year and a half ago at the University of Central Florida, she sought out a queer-friendly organization, first and foremost. She had heard of "horror stories" on campus — one in which a straight big bullied an LGBTQ+ little — and Kayla wanted nothing to do with that. If you want to bring a girl as your date to your sorority spring formal, you definitely want to make sure you join a sorority in which you feel comfortable doing so. Kayla found Omega Phi Alpha, which welcomed her and her trans girlfriend with open arms.
"She's invited to come as my date [to sorority events]," says Kayla. "My sisters all know about my girlfriend and are supportive of our relationship."
Sororities, while founded on ideals of scholarship and sisterhood, can lean heteronormative and restrictive to the gender binary. Mixers are usually done between sororities and fraternities, with an eye toward setting up romantic opportunities between men and women. In recent years, the National Panhellenic Conference — which is the umbrella council for social sororities in the United States — has been making efforts to make sure sororities are being welcoming to any woman-identifying student, and isn't discriminating membership against transgender women students. According to a 2017 NPC survey, approximately 15 out of 26 Panhellenic sororities feature inclusive language toward gender identity in their membership policies.
But when it comes to things such as taking your girlfriend to a formal instead of a more-often-seen boyfriend, the language used among sorority sisters — and behavior in response to bringing a queer date — may be less welcoming.
"I remember going to recruitment day one and I was legitimately the only person there in jeans and a jacket," says Jen, 24, who graduated from New York University in May 2016. "Initially I wondered if I was going to be expected to perform a certain level of femininity to fit in."
Jen joined Kappa Kappa Gamma. She was out from initiation, and she felt safe and accepted by her chapter. She brought women as dates to formals, even if her date wasn't too keen on attending. "It wasn't an environment a lot of the girls I dated wanted to be in anyway, so it was always them doing it as a favor to me. Just remember this is a club or bar full of — what appear to be— the straightest people on the planet. Frat guys in this environment just weren’t our cup of tea — but I still wanted a date!"
Emily*, a 21-year-old student at a large city school in the northeast, and sister of Kappa Kappa Gamma, thinks that the location and liberal attitudes of the campus and its city affects those of the sorority.
"I knew that because I attend a very liberal university, it would be unlikely that anyone would be outwardly hateful towards me for being bisexual, even sorority members," says Emily. Regardless, Emily still thinks if she brought a girl as a date to an event, and was dancing with her, she would "get some looks."
"Since there are always new members and people I don't know well, I'd be coming out all over again to some people at an event that is meant to just be fun," she says.
Brooke, 23, thought she was straight when she joined Kappa Alpha Theta at Boston University.
"Without realizing it, I think I wound up exactly where I was supposed to," she says. Once she came out when she was a student, Brooke was just excited to bring her girlfriend to formal. The only thing that made her feel different were pronoun usage at chapter, in which sisters referred to dates as men.
'Oh you're gay? K, are we still meeting up for lunch or studying later?'
Sometimes, queer women are dissuaded from rushing altogether from the reputation sororities have of being monotonously straight.
"Date parties and associating with fraternities are common elements that are implemented in a sorority's routine," says Allison, a 21-year-old student at the University of Arizona. She initially considered joining a sorority freshman year because her mom made lifelong friends through her sorority. But Allison didn't see herself fitting in, and decided against joining. "I have nothing against that at all — by all means, find that cute boy and take him to the party! Personally, I just don't see myself doing that."
Besides the 26 Panhellenic sororities, the National Multicultural Greek Council, which is a council that oversees multicultural organizations on campuses, has its own selection of sororities and fraternities as well. Gamma Rho Lambda is an MGC sorority founded in 2003 at Arizona State University for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women. GRL (bonus points for the acronym) has 15 chapters across the United States, and five colonies (a colony is the initial stage to becoming a chapter). As a member of GRL, you wouldn't need to second-guess bringing a girl to formal, or a sister misgendering your date at chapter.
At Drake University, Mariana, 19 (who asked that her sorority not be named), attests to the community's inclusiveness: she knows queer women in every sorority on campus.
"Never have I felt uncomfortable bringing a woman to a sorority event, or even just talking about my relationships openly with other women in the chapter," says Mariana. "Throughout my membership, there have been other openly queer women in our chapter who have had similar experiences. Often times, many of my sisters get just as excited about my relationships as I do, gushing over how cute we are together."
Sisters can also be the ones who support you during the most during a pivotal time in your life. Dalia, 24, was president of Sigma Sigma Sigma during junior year at Montclair State University when she came out. She participated in a panel about being LGBTQ+ and part of Greek life, and that's how most of her sisters found out. They supported her right away.
"It was almost like, 'Oh you're gay? K, are we still meeting up for lunch or studying later?'" Dalia said about coming out to her sisters. When Dalia brought a girl to formal both junior year and senior year, her sisters were just excited to meet her dates.
Talia, 18, freshman at George Washington University, sought advice from her recruitment counselor on being a lesbian student seeking Greek life. Talia's counselor connected her with the Panhellenic president at GW, who also identifies as a lesbian. Talia joined Kappa Alpha Theta, which has other LGBTQ+ sisters in her chapter, and will be initiated in spring 2018. As for the future?
Talia says, "I hope to tear the stereotypes to shreds by acquiring leadership positions within Panhel in the future."
Back in New York City, Katy, 25, felt comfortable taking girls as dates to sorority formals at New York University when she was a student, since straight sisters would often bring female friends to events.
"During the recruitment process I chose my sorority [Kappa Kappa Gamma] because I got a good sense that these women were good people that would accept me and support me," says Katy. "I wouldn't have joined a sorority otherwise."
*Name has been changed for privacy concerns.
Check out the entire Gen Why series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.
Check out the “Best of Elite Daily” stream in the Bustle App for more stories just like this!