Zeta Phi Beta, a historically black sorority founded at Howard University, says transgender women are not eligible for membership.
A “diversity statement” adopted by the Zeta Phi Beta International Executive Board on Jan. 12 states “an individual must be a cisgender woman” to join the organization. The statement at the same time says the sorority “values all people, regardless of race, age, gender, gender expression, ability, disability, creed, religion, or walk of life.”
A source earlier this month sent the Washington Blade a copy of the statement. Zeta Phi Beta has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Five women founded the sorority in 1920 to “directly affect positive change, chart a course of action for the 1920s and beyond, raise consciousness of their people, encourage the highest standards of scholastic achievement, and foster a greater sense of unity among its members,” according the sorority’s website.
The organization says it prioritizes social work and has “given untotaled hours of voluntary service to educate the public, assist youth, provide scholarships, support organized charities, and promote legislation for social and civic change.”
It has more than 100,000 members and more than 800 chapters in the U.S., Africa, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.
Zeta Phi Beta has drawn media attention before, but largely for hazing issues rather than gender discrimination.
Sororities and fraternities have been traditionally seen as hostile towards LGBT people. Trans women in color in particular face higher levels of discrimination in the U.S. than other groups.
A report from the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Black Justice Coalition and the National Center for Transgender Equality found 41 percent of black trans people had experienced homelessness and 34 percent had lived in extreme poverty with an annual income of less than $10,000. Those rates are significantly higher than those for the transgender community at large and for the general U.S. population.
Data from other studies indicates the average lifespan for a trans woman of color is 35 years old.