A fraternity at the University of Michigan is facing a lawsuit from its own national organization for allowing women and non-binary individuals to join. In 2016, Michigan Sigma Phi was struggling to recruit new members and began accepting women. That year, they also had a new member transition from male to female, and another pledge began to identify as non-binary.
"It did feel sort of like we were pioneering something," Stephanie Stoneback, who was one of the first women to pledge the organization, told The Detroit News. "But honestly, it really just felt like I was joining a group of friends."
Since 2016, dozens of women and non-binary individuals have joined the Greek organization, despite rules set by the New York-based national organization, Sigma Phi Society, that state only men are allowed to join.
The national organization is now trying to sever ties with Michigan Sigma Phi and wants them to stop using the Greek letters. Sigma Phi Society argued in a legal filing that the actions of the local chapter are causing "irreparable harm" to their trademarks.
"In a nutshell, defendants want to continue to operate as a Sigma Phi chapter, identify as a Sigma Phi chapter, and use the trademarks — without following the rules. Respectfully, defendants cannot have it both ways," the lawsuit states.
David Nacht, a lawyer representing Michigan Sigma Phi, praised the fraternity for standing up for "inclusion and gender equality."
"These are progressive University of Michigan fraternity members," said Nacht. "That is not a phrase you hear often. These are people who are standing up for civil rights, inclusion, and gender equality. And we just want to give them a right to do so and have a voice."
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