An all-male fraternity at the University of Michigan is being sued by its national organization after accepting nonbinary and female members.
ABC News reports the lawsuit, which was filed by Sigma Phi Society on Oct. 20 in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges that the conduct of members at UM’s chapter of Sigma Phi has caused “irreparable harm to the valuable Trademarks, including infringement and dilution thereof, and to National Sigma Phi’s image, identity, and goodwill.”
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Denise Page Hood heard oral arguments from both sides Thursday whether to ease an order that bars Michigan Sigma Phi from using the national fraternity’s name and Greek letters. The Judge said she won’t issue a written opinion about the injunction request until next week.
Stephanie Stoneback joined Michigan’s Sigma Phi in the fall of 2016 which included five men and four other women at a time when a fraternity member who was male began to identify as a woman and another began to identify as non-binary. Since then Sigma Phi has accepted dozens of members who aren’t men or who are nonbinary, a gender identity that is not strictly male or female, said Stoneback, a graduate who was president in 2017-18.
“It did feel sort of like we were pioneering something,” Stoneback told The Detroit News. “But honestly, it really just felt like I was joining a group of friends.”
Sigma Phi Society, the New York-based national organization, said membership decisions in Ann Arbor are harming the group.
“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.
Michigan Sigma Phi was struggling to find people to live in the fraternity house when it decided to expand membership, according to ABC News.
“These are progressive University of Michigan fraternity members,” said David Nacht, a lawyer for Michigan Sigma Phi. “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.”