The bonds of siblinghood: Inside Iowa State’s LGBTQ+ sorority

By Christine Salek

What do you call a sorority that prides itself in “siblinghood” (not sisterhood), educates the community on LGBTQ+ issues and is more than happy to show off their pets for a good cause?

Just call them Gamma Rho Lambda – Omicron Chapter.

This chapter of the social, non-residential sorority more commonly known as GRL came to Iowa State in April 2014 and brought with it a whole new outlet for social change.

“One huge factor [that makes us different] is our diverse atmosphere,” said Kate Smith, senior in public relations and Spring 2016 inductee. “It is a very accepting space, and not just for identities but for personalities as well.”

Aside from its primary messages of inclusivity and acceptance – including being open to people of any gender – GRL plays a vital role in educating Iowa State students on issues related to the LGBTQ+ community.

“We host workshops at Iowa State to help further education about LGBT issues and causes,” said Jackie Horsfall, senior in public relations and founding member of GRL. “Being in the Multicultural Greek Council, you stand for more than just yourself. It’s a duty to do outreach, educate and have a platform.”

“Our push for educational outreach [is important],” Smith said.

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Members of Gamma Rho Lambda – Omicron Chapter pose outside Iowa State’s Memorial Union.

This push begins even before a student becomes a member of GRL. Unlike a traditional sorority, GRL’s recruitment activities take place after the school year begins, where interested students must attend at least one social event and one educational event. Following an interview process, they learn whether their potential new siblings voted them into the sorority.

New members don’t have to be part of the LGBTQ+ community, but they should be committed to being strong allies if they aren’t. According to its Iowa State Greek Affairs description, GRL “exemplifies the qualities of acceptance, diversity, unity and trust” – and Horsfall and Smith can tell you exactly how they continually strive to uphold these virtues.

“We are very big on [gender] pronouns: asking and giving pronouns and not assuming others’ pronouns,” Horsfall said. “We make sure all activities are inclusive for those with disabilities. And when planning holiday related events, we don’t have a ‘Christmas’ party, we have a ‘winter’ party.”

More generally, Smith said GRL “[makes] sure people are validated through their identities.”

“We are a unified group of individuals who share common bonds through our lived experiences in marginalized groups,” she said, also echoing Horsfall’s stress on ensuring everyone knows and respects each others’ pronouns.

As the year continues, GRL members will both engage in the aforementioned educational activities and hold fundraisers that benefit their local philanthropy, which they have yet to choose.

To benefit the sorority’s national philanthropy, The Trevor Project – an LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention organization – GRL will create and sell calendars of their pets.

“We all have an insane amount of pets,” Horsfall said.

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Gamma Rho Lambda – Omicron Chapter, Iowa State’s LGBTQ+ sorority, recruits new members every semester.

Efforts like this might be made easier by having a chapter residence where all members can provide live-in help, like a traditional sorority. However, neither Smith nor Horsfall believe the lack of a house takes away from the most important thing: sibling bonding.

“We have weekly business meetings that bring us all together, as well as socials and events to attend,” Smith said. “I think it’d be great to have a residence, but it’s not feasible for our sorority at this time.”

Even without a house, GRL still makes sure that members of the LGBTQ+ community can come together in a safe environment with allies that can help amplify their voices.

“Those who are [part of the LGBTQ+ community] experience GRL on a different level than our allies,” Smith said. “We have a personal stake in the sorority as it specifically stands for us and our identities.”

And as a group committed to the advancement and positive visibility of minoritized individuals, the more diversity within their ranks, the better.

“Representation is key to acceptance,” Horsfall said.

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