Michigan fraternity sued over nonbinary and female members

A fraternity at the University of Michigan is being sued by its national organization after accepting women as members

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A fraternity at the University of Michigan is being sued by its national organization after accepting women as members.

A federal judge is holding a hearing Thursday about whether to ease an Oct. 23 order that bars Michigan Sigma Phi from using the national fraternity's name and Greek letters.

Since 2016, Michigan 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 Stephanie 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 and its trademarks, according to its lawsuit in federal court in Detroit.

“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.

“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.”

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