The male fraternity Sigma Phi Beta is setting itself apart from other Greek organizations for its unique, GBT-inclusive policies as this year alone it established a new chapter and initiated a transgender member for the first time.
Sigma Phi Beta was founded as a gay-straight allied fraternity at Arizona State University in 2001 with a mission to promote educational and social achievement for its members "within the traditional Greek fraternity system, while providing all open-minded men in college with career and character building opportunities," according to its website. "We embrace tradition while promoting positive change that moves us forward." The fraternity values community service, brotherhood, diversity, and leadership. It is the only exclusively college-based, queer-focused fraternity in the nation with chapter recognition by an IFC (Inter-Fraternity Council). Chapters are currently active at ASU and now, Indiana University.
Furthermore, Sigma Phi Beta was the first fraternity to adopt trans-inclusive policies in 2006, in which any male-identified student can become a member regardless of his biologically-assigned sex or legal status. The Fraternity’s Policy on Gender states: "Male is defined as any individual who self-identifies as male, regardless of his assigned sex at birth or his expression or the perceived expression of his gender … Federal and state law provides no clear or consistent definition of gender. The fraternity adopts the most expansive policy under present law in order to prevent exclusion and or discharge of transgender members regardless of legal gender designation." The board’s Assistant Communications Director, Sam Holdren, clarified to GLAAD, "Even if you’re born male and you transition or identify as a woman, you can never be removed from the fraternity. Once a brother, always a brother."
Jesse Weil, a transgender member of the ASU chapter, sent a compelling message when he joined: he had looked into resources and support from various groups on campus, but felt that the fraternity best aligned with his sense of self, and best supported his individual development. "I really liked the idea of being in a male-gendered environment and it has helped me get comfortable with and explore and expand my identity and gender expression," he says. "Sigma Phi Beta has worked hard in breaking the glass ceiling and giving GBT men the same opportunity to experience Greek life as their straight peers." Another member—a former president of his chapter—identified as gender queer during his time in the Fraternity, and now serves on the national board of directors for the organization. He is also attending law school on an LGBT scholarship. Holdren calls their stories inspiring, and says, "That’s the beauty of Sigma Phi Beta. We provide a space where gay and trans men and their allies can experience brotherhood and be themselves, and be accepted for who they are." Jesse agrees, explaining, "They recognized maleness outside of strict social norms and that meant that I would be in a more open and accepting environment than a fraternity that didn't express such recognition."
The Fraternity’s practices are especially noteworthy during a time of controversial debate over gender identity in same-sex colleges and a growing need for gender-neutral housing and bathrooms. As the fraternity grows, it is undoubtedly influencing other organizations on campus and beyond. Other Greek organizations have responded positively to Sigma Phi Beta’s initiatives, and one mainstream sorority is adopting a similar policy on gender modeled after theirs.
The visibility Sigma Phi Beta is giving to the transgender community is integral, especially as we celebrate the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day devoted to ending violence and hate based on gender or perceived gender. GLAAD is excited to see Sigma Phi Beta Fraternity endorse uniquely inclusive policies that support gay, bi and transgender involvement, and hopes it sets a precedent for other Greek organizations around the country. GLAAD will continue to highlight positive stories about impactful progress in the transgender community.