Op-Ed: Fraternity drag competition fails to advance LGBT equality

A fraternity member performed in heels in Allied in Greek – a drag competition – on Monday. Sam Johnson | Hatchet Photographer
A fraternity member performed in heels in Allied in Greek – a drag competition – on Monday. Sam Johnson | Hatchet Photographer

Kai Neander is a senior majoring in international affairs. He is a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

As an event centered around thanking allies, Allied in Greek skips asking whether Greek organizations – institutions notorious for racism, classism and homophobia – are deserving of thanks at all. Instead, they move straight to the reward.

As a gay fraternity member, I know how welcoming and supportive Greek life can be. However, Allied in Greek – sponsored by both the University’s largest LGBT and Greek student organizations – demonstrates that there is still a long way to go before we can congratulate the institution for its tolerance. The event, at its core, is a misrepresentation of an important component of the LGBT community used to attract attention, make money and entertain a crowd.

Although it is a premier LGBT event, it fails to improve tolerance, educate allies or fight homophobia. Instead, Allied in Greek hinders progress towards equality, creating a false sense of accomplishment while perpetuating homophobia and ignorance. The event’s failures demonstrate the work that still needs to be done before the Greek community will deserve any praise.

This year’s event opened with a brief video that touched on LGBT suicide and bullying as well as the historical importance of drag in the LGBT movement. However, the premise of enthusiastic Greek acceptance of the queer community was quickly disproved by the displays of ignorance about drag culture and the lack of effort in representing it accurately by the performers. Though cross-dressing and dancing may be enjoyable to watch, calling it drag is both inaccurate and disrespectful.

At a school known for its progressive and tolerant atmosphere, should it be acceptable for the premier LGBT equality event to be a drag competition starring primarily straight fraternity brothers poorly imitating drag queens for the entertainment of their friends?

It’s hard to believe that after watching a bad imitation of a drag performance, straight brothers will have additional respect and understanding of the challenges faced by their LGBT brothers. Instead of furthering acceptance or education, this event only serves to degrade an important component of the LGBT liberation movement so that Greek chapters can have an enjoyable and comical evening, trying to win money for their philanthropies.

And if the Greek community at GW were already truly tolerant, there would be an acknowledgement of the struggles of queer women, not just men. No sorority sisters stood on stage as drag kings, nor were they provided another venue to be represented. Instead, women served only as choreographers and back-up dancers.

Instead of improving tolerance in Greek life, the event permitted chapters to institutionalize passive homophobia and ignorance under the guise of tolerance and acceptance. The lack of understanding, inclusion and respect demonstrated by Allied in Greek shows that Greek life at GW has yet to reach a position deserving of the title of ally.

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