There has been a lot of talk about SAI on the Puget Sound campus over the past few months. It’s time to bring some things to light.
Sigma Alpha Iota is a music fraternity for women that has been present on the Puget Sound campus since 1948 and currently has 223 active chapters nationwide. The fraternity is composed of women who have a strong commitment to music and are dedicated to promoting the development of music throughout the world.
SAI has many noble ideals and is well regarded as a great supporter of women in music. However, this organization also has a problematic transgender policy. The policy, which can be found on the SAI National website, states:
“If a person is medically and legally a female at the time of pledging and through the time of initiation, she may be invited to become a member of SAI. If at any time following initiation she elects gender reassignment, when considered legally and medically of the male gender, then the Fraternity requires that her membership will be moved to the category of Distinguished Member. The official badge, membership card, and certificate would be turned in and a special ritual ceremony performed to transfer the membership to the appropriate Distinguished Member category. The member would then be presented with the appropriate pin, membership card, and certificate.” (2013 SAI Chapter Procedures Manual, Appendix A).
This policy is problematic because it is not inclusive to all women and it requires certain members to prove that they are “legally and medically female” while others are not required to show this information. It sets an arbitrary and unclear definition of what it means to be a woman, thereby excluding many women from membership.
The transgender policy became a major issue for the SAI chapter at Puget Sound last semester when they tried to initiate an individual who identifies as a transgender woman. This individual was ultimately barred from initiating by the SAI National Executive Board on the basis that she is not “legally and medically female”.
SAI’s main argument regarding this issue is that initiating a transgender woman who does not meet their transgender policy requirements would jeopardize the organization’s Title IX exemption status. This is a status that allows SAI to exist as an organization exclusively for women. But would this legal status actually be in danger by allowing transwomen to join? The answer seems to be no. There are several examples of Title IX exempt organizations that are inclusive to transgender people. Girl Scouts, Sigma Phi Beta Fraternity, Delta Xi Phi Multicultural Sorority, and Gamma Alpha Omega Sorority are all “single-sex”, Title IX exempt organizations that explicitly state that they do not impose barriers to membership for transgender individuals. Based on this information, it seems that SAI’s transgender policy is not necessary for it to remain classified as a Title IX exempt organization, and yet the organization continues to uphold a policy that allows for transgender discrimination.
The SAI National Executive Board’s actions following their decision are almost as frustrating as the decision itself. They refused to allow the chapter to talk about this issue with anyone outside of the chapter, and they denied a request by the chapter to disclose information concerning this issue to the Puget Sound community. On February 2nd, the National Executive Board temporarily suspended the Puget Sound chapter for talking about this issue with another chapter of SAI. The Puget Sound chapter has made many attempts to discuss this issue with the organization and appeal to the National Executive Board, and each attempt has been met with an unreasonable amount of resistance. It has been effectively impossible for anyone in the Puget Sound chapter to do anything about this issue because they are not allowed to talk to anyone about it and the National Executive Board refuses to back down from their position.
Based on how I understand it, there is no real reason why SAI’s transgender policy cannot be repealed. And yet, the National Executive Board is working to make sure that this policy remains in place and that no voices of dissent are heard. This is not something I can tolerate. I refuse to let this discrimination and transmisogyny be swept under the rug and go unnoticed by the wider community. Organizations that deny membership to transgender people need to be called out and held accountable for their actions. Transphobia everywhere needs to be addressed and condemned, and this is no exception.
If you would like to let Sigma Alpha Iota National Headquarters know what you think about their policy and their actions, you can do so by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org