Campus Pride Resources

How Homophobia Hurts the College Sorority

by Shane L. Windmeyer & Pamela W. Freeman

Homophobia is defined as the fear and hatred of people who love and are sexually attracted to those of the same sex, which includes prejudice and acts of discrimination resulting from that fear and hatred. Derived from the Greek homos, meaning “same,” and phobikos, meaning “having a fear of and/or aversion for,” the term “homophobia” was coined by George Weinberg in 1972 in his book Society and the Healthy Homosexual.1

Like other forms of oppression, homophobia not only oppresses members of the target or minority groups (gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people), but also, on many levels, hurts members of the agent or dominant group (heterosexuals).2 As a result, everyone eventually loses, and more specifically, the negative effect of homophobia remains alive.

Sororities, partially because they comprise women, often are viewed as being less homophobic than their counterpart male fraternities. The impact of homophobia on sisterhood, however, is still very real and does threaten sororities. Many times homophobia, as well as sexism and other forms of prejudice, compounded by peer pressure, result in harassment and violence. Many people do not see the connections between themselves and people different from them who may be similarly oppressed. Women as a part of sororities can benefit from such a view of the links of oppression. Issues such as sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and ageism, are linked by a common origin — economic power and control.3 Such a belief requires that in order to eliminate any one oppression successfully, all oppressions must be subsequently dealt with or else success will be limited and incomplete.Educational efforts among the Greek community need to reflect this theory of oppression to have an impact on the organizational culture.

Therefore, homophobic beliefs and actions not only pose potential harm to individuals of all sexual orientations, but also jeopardize sisterhood itself. Despite this, most Greek educational efforts either fail to address homophobia altogether, or raise it simply as an isolated “side issue” unrelated to the other issues and concerns. Such a practice will only continue to hurt Greek life. In actuality, homophobia harms all sisters and the goals of the college sorority.

The following list adapts the theory of Warren J. Blumenfeld, from his book Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price, to the college sorority and the female experience. It also mirrors ideas presented by Suzanne Pharr in the book Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism to show the interrelated nature of the two forms of oppression for women. This information may be useful to foster an educational dialogue about how homophobia hurts the college sorority and to heighten awareness on issues of sexual orientation.

  1. Homophobia jeopardizes sisterhood by inhibiting close, intimate friendships among sorority women and their ability to show affection toward other women for fear of being perceived as lesbian or bisexual.
  2. Homophobia locks sorority women into rigid gender-based roles that inhibit self expression and exploration of female identity. As such, women may shy away from activities that could be denoted as “tomboy” and occupations that might traditionally be associated with masculine behaviors. Such practices limit the choices of women and restrict the development of a positive female identity–straight, lesbian, or bisexual.
  3. Homophobia creates a negative environment for sisterhood by compromising the integrity of heterosexual sorority women. Lesbian baiting may be a common practice among some women to pressure and harass other women through calling, or threatening to call them, lesbians. As such, homophobia is used as a way to keep potential lesbians or bisexual women from joining the sorority, to be kicked out, and/or to show superiority as heterosexuals.
  4. Homophobia can be used to stigmatize, silence, and target people who are perceived to be lesbian or bisexual and/or labeled by others as lesbian or bisexual. Such an environment may be hostile to these sisters and lead to harms that are often associated with being lesbian or bisexual.
  5. Homophobia creates an environment where sorority sisters are sometimes pressured to conform to heterosexual norms of dating and expectation to have sex. Women who do not conform to such heterosexual norms may have their sexuality questioned by others in a negative manner.
  6. Homophobia breeds an attitude of sexual conquest among men that can have a negative impact on women in sororities. Fraternity men often feel pressure to “get laid” to prove their virility as heterosexual males. Such environments encourage men to use women as trophies of sexual conquest and lead to higher likelihood of rape, sexual objectification and other forms of sexual abuse of women.
  7. Homophobia is one cause for premature sexual involvement, which increases the chances of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS/HIV and pregnancy. Sorority women often may be pressured to prove their “heteronormalcy” by becoming sexually active. Such a perspective impairs educational efforts on safer sex and sexuality awareness in the college sorority.
  8. Homophobia restricts communication among sorority sisters and diminishes the possibility of creating a true sense of sisterhood and community, especially when the sorority discovers another sister is lesbian or bisexual.
  9. Homophobia prevents sorority chapters from receiving the benefits of friendship and leadership offered by lesbian or bisexual sisters. Chapters may blackball or kick out members who are suspected to be lesbian or bisexual. At other times, a lesbian or bisexual sister may leave the sorority because of harassment and/or fear of violence.
  10. Homophobia remains the highest cause for suicide among youth.
  11. Homophobia compromises the entire learning environment on a college campus for all students.
  12. Homophobia inhibits the appreciation of diversity in a campus community and adds to the harassment and violence toward all minority groups. Such an environment impairs the progress of educational efforts on multiculturalism and diversity by not recognizing gay students in the campus dialogue.
  13. Homophobia saps energy from more constructive sorority projects. The time and energy could be better spent doing sisterhood activities or philanthropy.

Revised from Out on Fraternity Row: Personal Accounts of Being Gay in a College Fraternity, edited by Shane L. Windmeyer and Pamela W. Freeman, Alyson Publications, 1998.

NOTES

1. George Weinberg, Society and the Healthy Homosexual (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972).

2. Warren J. Blumenfeld, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992).

3. Suzanne Pharr, Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism (Little Rock: Chardon Press, 1988).

Shane L. Windmeyer and Pamela W. Freeman, Lambda 10 Project, All Rights Reserved.