In what is described as a national precedent, UCLA has given official recognition to a sorority formed by lesbians.
As a result, the nine-member Lambda Delta Lambda sorority can now meet on campus, use the university's name and apply for money from student activity funds. However, according to university rules, Lambda Delta Lambda cannot exclude heterosexual women from membership if any apply. The group's leaders said they welcome any women to what they stressed is a social and philanthropic--not a sexual--organization.
"It was very validating for us," said Lambda Delta Lambda President Allison Adler, a junior majoring in creative writing, of last week's recognition by the UCLA Office of Fraternity and Sorority Relations. "It is really special for us to be on an equal level with the other sororities."
Although other social and political organizations for homosexual students exist at UCLA and many campuses across the country, UCLA officials and several homosexual activists in Los Angeles, Washington and New York said this week that they know of no other gay-oriented sorority or fraternity that has formal approval from an American college or university to be part of a regulated Greek letter system. Openly gay students and heterosexual fraternities often regard each other with mutual disdain, the activists said.
"I think it's fantastic," Vernon Strickland, a leader of a Washington-based gay fraternity, said of the UCLA women's success. "I think that means the gentlemen will have no problems getting recognition." His group, Delta Lambda Phi, is trying to organize chapters at UCLA and four other universities. Its Washington chapter is not affiliated with any school.
The new UCLA sorority, which does not have its own house, began as a group of friends who met informally several times a week in a campus lounge, its members said. The women kiddingly called the circle a sorority but gradually realized, they explained, that they had many of the same goals as formal sororities do: meeting friends, making contacts for careers, doing charitable work.
"I never felt any sentimental attachment to UCLA before. But I now feel proud to be a student here," said member Julie Leverence, a senior majoring in motion picture and television production. "Lambda Delta Lambda gives me a supportive atmosphere and a connection to the school."
All nine women members said they are lesbians and feel excluded at existing sororities, which, they complained, are often snobby and anti-homosexual. So, they gingerly approached school officials, expecting a hostile reaction but finding, they said, a pleasant one.
Admires Their 'Courage'
"Most sororities were formed in a need to support each other in their goals and aspirations and this is no different," said Laura Bajuk, the UCLA official who supervises sorority life. She added that she admires Lambda Delta Lambda members' "courage" in publicly revealing their sexual orientation.
Other sororities have been curious about the new group, but not antagonistic, Bajuk said. Privately, some leaders of other sororities said they are dubious about the formal recognition given Lambda Delta Lambda, and that they expect the new group will have a hard time if it tries to join the Panhellenic Council, which coordinates many inter-sorority events.
"They are trying to make spectacles of themselves. It's obnoxious," the rush chairwoman of one sorority said of the group formed by gay women.
Bajuk said she cautioned the new sorority that university recognition means that it cannot be exclusionary and cannot be formed around specific religious or political goals. Its UCLA-approved constitution states that Lambda Delta Lambda is to "promote awareness of women's, minorities' and gay issues on campus and in the community," and Bajuk said such a statement is broad enough to be considered non-discriminatory. The group plans to require members to do volunteer work in such areas as helping AIDS patients.
Members said their Greek letters were chosen carefully. Lambda traditionally has been associated with the gay rights movement. The Delta symbolizes the triangle that the Nazis forced homosexuals to wear, much like the Star of David the Nazis required Jews to pin on their clothes.
Raises Delicate Issue
That all the Lambda Delta Lambda members are gay raised a delicate issue on campus. After an article about the sorority appeared in the school newspaper, the Daily Bruin, a letter to the editor from a male freshman asked: "Once these lesbians get a house and live together, won't it be just the same as a co-ed sorority-fraternity? Wouldn't it be just like girls living with guys or the other way around?"
Members concede that some of them are couples and that there is a possibility that members could meet new lovers in the sorority. Yet they strongly maintain that the club is not designed for matchmaking, even if it eventually gets a house.
"We are not starting this sorority so we can meet new people to sleep with," said Marci Kay, a senior English major. "We are starting it because we feel excluded from the Greek system now, and that is a network system for friendship and professional careers."
Members of the new sorority said they realize that such public discussions of their lives and goals could trigger hostile responses from some students, teachers and even prospective employers. "Someone has to put themselves on the line. Someone has to break the ice," said Lauren Susman, a junior and political science major who is the sorority's vice president.
"I respect what the young ladies have done," said Brenda Susman, Lauren's mother and alumni adviser to the sorority. "I think they wanted to make their university experience a positive one and I support that one-hundred percent."
Asked if the young women face trouble at UCLA, she replied: "I suspect individuals from other sororities and fraternities will give them a lot of flak. I hope they will be able to deal with that in a rational manner."
The members said they have been the object of some puzzled stares and pointed fingers as they walk around campus wearing sweat shirts emblazoned with the sorority's letters, but that no one has approached them in anger or made nasty comments to their faces. Some, but not all, of the members said they had talked to their families and friends about their sexual orientation before the sorority was formed. Those encounters were difficult, but caused no breaks in relationships, they said.
But one incident still upsets them. One of the women was quoted in the Daily Bruin as saying that she risked disinheritance if her father learned that she is a lesbian. A few days later, the father received a copy of the Bruin article in the mail with a note from a group purporting to be "UCLA Students Against Sodomy." (UCLA officials said no such group exists.) The woman said the letter caused her family a lot of anguish but no permanent rupture.
Meanwhile, Lambda Delta Lambda is planning ways to raise money and attract new members. It is also considering applying for membership in the Panhellenic Council.
"We don't just want to be separate but equal," said Adler, the group's president. "We want to be equal."