Posted March 20, 2007 – Well-coifed Black men in pink and green outfits. Flawless make-up. Pearl bracelets. When images of presumably gay men dressed like Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority members surfaced on the Internet, message boards lit up across Black America as folks expressed concern that the men had created their own unofficial chapter of AKA.
Photos of inductees to the Tri Alpha Chapter of MIAKA (Men Interested in Alpha Kappa Alpha) from Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M were published on a BET.com forum that became a user showdown. Black radio lines buzzed, and Houston’s CBS affiliate ran a story.
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The media portrayed the group as a rogue “new” faction of gay men, dead set on infiltrating AKA, the nearly century-old sorority. AKA National stressed MIAKAs had “no official or unofficial standing with the sorority.” MIAKAs claimed foul play. Both parties threatened lawsuits.
As the debate raged, one thing became clear: The controversy was less about the sanctity of AKA and more about homophobia. A self-proclaimed Omega Psi Phi member posted, “I can care less about being politically correct. Homosexuality is wrong and it is tolerated too much, especially on our Black campuses.” One AKA proclaimed, “God is not pleased with this.” Others called it “sick.”
Actually, there’s nothing new about MIAKA. Like a similar organization modeled after Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, MIAKA dates to at least the mid-1960s.
“I know members who are well into their 40s and 50s,” said Elliot, 29, a MIAKA member and HBCU graduate from Atlanta. He joined MIAKA in 1999 and also pledged a fraternity of the “Divine Nine,” the name given to nine historically Black fraternities and sororities in the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC).
There are also lesbian groups modeling fraternities like Alpha Phi Alpha. “There’s a shadow group for everyone,” explained Elliot, who requested that his last name not be pubished.
'A lot of Distress for Members'
At colleges where Greek-letter activities dominate student life, gay and lesbian students are often excluded. For some, groups like MIAKA offer an alternative. Their existence is no secret at large HBCUs. Still, membership is often discreet. Events are held privately to avoid a homophobic backlash. There’s a pledging process, but members don’t consider themselves AKAs. They understand “they could never go to the Boule and ‘skee-weet’ with the real girls,” Elliot explained. “It certainly isn’t about me or anyone wanting to be a woman or replace them.”
Although he doesn’t discuss MIAKA with his frat brothers, Elliot has AKA friends and relatives who don’t find the group offensive. “I may joke and say, ‘Hey Soror,’ and we laugh,” said Elliot, who blames homophobia for the recent outcry.
But others see it differently. For Lawrence C. Ross, Jr., author of The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities, the protection of fraternities’ and sororities’ histories, customs and trademarked symbols is paramount.
“Certainly homophobia is there,” admitted the Alpha Phi Alpha member, 41. “But when someone hijacks your organization, there’s a lot of distress for the members…. You would get an angry reaction if they were gay men or White frat boys.”
Go to the next page to see what one AKA, who pledged in 1958 had to say about the new MIAKAs
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'New MIAKAs Disrespectful'
Alfrances Sharpe, 70, pledged AKA at Tennessee State University in 1958. Sharpe’s son is an openly gay minister and Alpha Phi Alpha member.
“I don’t have a problem with the gay community,” ventured Sharpe.
But she was “livid” when she saw the images. “Yes, these groups have been around for a long time, but they were never public,” said Sharpe, who finds new MIAKAs disrespectful.
According to Elliot, AKAs call upon MIAKAs to help host events or win campus titles. And some AKA chapters actually crown a “Mr. MIAKA.” But auxiliary groups aren’t self-appointed, Ross stressed. “Sweetheart groups are organized by members of the organizations, and persons are asked to join.”
Sharpe believes gays and lesbians uncomfortable with traditional organizations should find “above-ground” alternatives. “There are groups out there for you,” Sharpe pleaded. “Get into one of those groups, and then you can learn what sisterhood or brotherhood truly is.”
Indeed, more than 25 Black gay and lesbian Greek-letter organizations have been founded since 1985. Most emerged after 2000 and are incorporated with chapters in multiple cities.
But for male AKA devotees, imitation remains “the sincerest form of flattery,” Elliot reasoned. “I think they will still join MIAKA, even with gay frats.”
Tara Lake is a professor of African American Studies and freelance writer based in Los Angeles.