‘There Is No Ban’: After Facing Backlash for a ‘Diversity Statement’ That Excluded Trans Women, Zeta Phi Beta Makes a New Pledge

Members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. participate in the 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Day March and Rally on January 16, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: Paras Griffin (Getty Images)

Zeta Phi Beta wants to make it clear that all women are welcome in its sisterhood.

As reported by Essence magazine, the historically black sorority had earned the ire of many after an article by the Washington Blade made public a “diversity statement” purportedly adopted by the sorority’s International Executive Board on Jan. 12, which claimed that the 99-year-old sorority “values all people, regardless of race, age, gender, gender expression, ability, disability, creed, religion, or walk of life” yet stipulated that “an individual must be a cisgender woman” to join.

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Obviously, this criteria flies in the face of both more inclusive policies at gender-specific HBCUs like Spelman and Morehouse, and an overall cultural shift that is recognizing gender as not solely determined by biological characteristics. It also seemingly contradicts Zeta Phi Beta’s founding mission 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.” It may be almost 100 years later, but those are all still worthy goals when considering the most marginalized among us.

However, in an exclusive statement to Essence, the sorority has apologized for the language of its previous statement, clarifying that there is no exclusion of the trans community.

The statement reads, in part:

Since our founding on January 16, 1920, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. has sought to create a sorority that embraces and values all of our members. Sadly, a previous diversity statement made by our organization fell short of that goal and for that, we offer our deepest apologies. .

..

We have always aimed to foster an inclusive and diverse sisterhood and remain committed to being an organization that embraces scholarship, provides true service and sets the standard for sisterly love.

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The sorority also notes that there are currently transgender women within its ranks and that they will be updating their membership guidelines to “provide additional guidance”—presumably, to whoever drafted and approved the original diversity statement. Most importantly, the statement to Essence declares that “[transgender members] have always been entitled to the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as any other member and shall retain the rights, privileges and responsibilities they were endowed with once they took the oath and became a member.”

“To be clear, there is no ban,” Zeta Phi Beta states.

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Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.