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Gender-neutral 'frarority' present at NEIU
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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There are only five members of Delta Lambda Psi at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), ranging in age from 21 to 29. They are juniors and seniors—gay, lesbian and straight.

This is a gender-neutral "frarority," as they call themselves.

"We hope to recruit more people from different sexual backgrounds and also hope to attract students who are gender non-conforming, queer and transgender into the organization," said Jorge Vargas, a senior who is the founder and president of the local Beta Chapter.

Delta Lambda Psi started at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 2005.

"The purpose, objective and goals of Delta Lambda Psi [are] to strengthen Greek life at Northeastern Illinois University by providing a vehicle for positive leadership, change, and growth in the queer, transsexual, transgender, questioning, pansexual, lesbian, intersex, gender-queer, gay, bisexual, asexual and ally communities," Vargas said. "It is our intention to provide further opportunity to obtain a well-rounded educational experience by offering leadership skills and the exposure needed to succeed financially, academically, socially, and culturally."

Vargas, 21, graduated from Chicago's Senn High School in 2009. He is gay, pursuing a degree in justice studies with a minor in woman and gender studies.

He officially joined Delta Lambda Psi on Jan. 18, 2011. However, months before joining, he was working with its Alpha chapter to establish Delta Lambda Psi at NEIU.

"I joined Delta Lambda Psi because I wanted to be part of something that I could relate to in my life," Vargas said. "I did a lot of research before I joined Delta Lambda Psi because I wanted to see the options for someone like me to join Greek life. I joined because I wanted to be part of a greater movement in which we challenged the world we live in—and I feel Delta Lambda Psi is allowing me to do this. Furthermore, I wanted to help bring something to my school that would allow other LGBT and straight students to be part of. I wanted to bring something that students felt proud to be part of, to help build strong friendships that last a lifetime."

Vargas said the local chapter has held several events over the past few months, including a screening of the documentary Cruel and Unusual. The frarority also hosted Dance For A Cure, an exercise group class that raised funds for an organization that helps women with breast cancer.

"Another event that we have upcoming is a family portrait exhibit," Vargas said. "The idea of 'family' is changing and we want to show that to the rest of the university and the community."

So why have a gender-neutral organization?

"Why not?," Vargas replied. "I think that is where the problem lays. Why must everything be [about] gender in our lives? I think it is important to have an option for those of us who want to be rebels and fight the system we live in. It also is important to have an organization that wants others who don't 'fit in' to be part of a group that understands them. After all, gender is socially constructed."

Vargas said Delta Lambda Psi has been very well received on campus.

"From day one, we have challenged the idea that we are just the gay frat on campus because, quite frankly, that's not who we truly are. We are much more complex than that. We have expressed that we are a queer and gender-neutral organization."

However, a longtime fraternity for gay men has taken issue with the frarority, claiming trademark infringement in a lawsuit filed in October in federal court in Eugene, Ore.

The lawsuit, brought by Delta Lambda Phi, claims that Delta Lambda Psi has caused confusion with the public and on Twitter and MySpace by deliberately choosing a name that differs by one Greek letter and also using the same abbreviated designation of DLP, according to an Associated Press story in November.

Vargas said before being interviewed by Windy City Times about Delta Lambda Psi that he could not comment or answer any questions about the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks a judge to order Delta Lambda Psi to change its name and pay damages, according to the Associated Press.

Delta Lambda Phi was founded in 1986 to promote the interests of gay, bisexual, transgender and progressive students, the lawsuit said. It has 30 chapters and four colonies across the U.S. and Canada with 400 undergraduate members and 2,500 alumni, reported the Associated Press.

"One of the biggest strength that our organization has is that we are hungry for change," Vargas said. "We all work together to tackle issues, not just one group of individuals. Another important strength that we have is our commitment to education and leadership. We hope to create the future leaders who have the tools to educate others."

Vargas said one of the long-term goals for the Beta Chapter of Delta Lambda Psi is to create a local mentoring program for high school students who are LGBT, allies, and gender nonconforming. "We want to show these teens not to give up on their dreams or their lives, and to fight everyday because giving up is not an option," Vargas said.

"Another goal is that we hope start another chapter of Delta Lambda Psi here in Chicago. Maybe at UIC, Loyola, DePaul or Northwestern. It would be amazing if we were able to start chapters at all of those schools."

Vargas said the local chapter also is attempting to create a Trans Summit—a series of workshops for high school and college trans students.

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