Recently, RollingOut.com ran a story about a Black lesbian fraternity named Omicron Psi Omega, calling the group out for allegedly stealing the signature trademarks of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. According to the article, the women of Omicron Psi Omega “step like Ques,” “dress like Ques,” and even play into the same hyper-sexualized stereotype some Ques perpetuate by grabbing their “crotches and sticking out their tongues.” The organization, which was founded in 2000 for women who identify as “aggressive, dominant, or masculine within the LGBT community,” also purports to stand for taking pride in their sexual orientation while focusing on family, professionalism, advocacy, and the idea that they can uplift the community through “support, motivation, and love.”
As a member of both a Black Greek Letter Organization (BGLO) and the LGBTQ community, I am ambivalent about organizations like Omicron Psi Omega. After all, what some would call “appreciation” others see as “appropriation.”
As a Black gay man, I understand it is vital that we in the LGBTQ community create our own spaces when traditional organizations, such as the fraternities and sororities in Divine 9, may not accept us for who we are and how we identify.
For many of us, these self-created spaces serve a dual purpose as they not only give us the experience of being a part of a Greek letter organization, but they are also safe harbors for many who have never felt totally accepted in the broader community. Because, let’s face it; the Divine 9, which began in earnest when my org, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. was founded in 1906, has definitely had its fair share of problems with accepting members that fall within the LGBTQ spectrum.
Recently, I wrote about this very issue for EBONY.com in piece entitled, “Black, Greek, And Gay? It’s Time for Organizations to Fall In Line.” In it, I discussed how many perspective fraternity and sorority members have to hide their sexual orientation in an effort to guard against discrimination while pursuing membership. I also called on BGLOs to discuss ways to make membership accessible to those qualified individuals who seek it, regardless of sexual orientation. After all, as leaders in the Black community, we should stand for ALL Black lives, not just the ones that are easy to accept because they fall within society’s acceptable norms around gender and sex.
The lack of inclusion has led many—like the women of Omicron Psi Omega, the MIAKAs (Men interested in Alpha Kappa Alpha), and the women of Kappa Omega Phi Fraternity—to form their own groups. However, at what point are these factions, who often borrow heavily from the traditions of Divine 9 organizations, merely copying the perceived stereotypes and style of long-established fraternities and sororities instead of forging a new path of their own?
It is truly important that when we, members of the Black LGBTQ community, strive to create our own spaces we are not simply taking the bits and pieces we like from other organizations and making them our own. When we “bite” important symbols like the colors, letters, and style of other orgs without regard for the who, what, and why they were created in the first place, we feed directly into stereotypes around Blackness and identity.
As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, I completely understand the importance of tearing down such stereotypes and stigmas we face as Black Greeks as it has, at times, outweighed the good work we have done—and continue to do—in the community. Moreover, I am aware of how these stereotypes have also had a direct correlation to how we are treated on campuses across the country, and in society as a whole. When new orgs take up the perceived, stereotypical images of Black frats and sororities, they are doing a disservice to themselves by buying into the very thing that never accepted them in the first place.
With that said, I must also remind my fellow D9 members that we are not absolved from claims of appropriation as well. Some of our traditions have roots in groups like the Freemasons and Eastern Stars, with whom many of our founders and early members also had ties. Furthermore, some of our customs have also been “swagger jacked” from things like the military and pop culture (i.e. the Kappas unofficial use of Hugh Heffner’s Playboy symbol) and assimilated into our organizations and we have yet to face questions about our own perceived thievery in these situations.
When it is all said and done, the real issue that remains is that of gender, sex, self-identity, and the acceptance of the complete Black lived experience.
At some point, we must begin to understand, that as Black people, we are often marginalized in the broader society and we must be careful not to do the same to others, like LGBTQ brothers and sisters, within our own community. And while we may not always agree with how Black LGBTQ fraternities and sororities represent themselves, there must be bridges built between the Divine 9 and these other Black Greek organizations who have the same goal of loving and uplifting the Black community as a whole.
George M. Johnson is an activist and writer based in the Washington, D.C. area. He has written for EBONY.com, Pride.com, Thebody.com, and The Huffington Post on topics of health, race, gender, sex, and education. He has a monthly column in A&U magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @iamgmjohnson.