It was almost inevitable that Kylie Foo and Sophia Chaparro would become friends, as their Alpha Delta Chi pledge class was made up of just three girls.
“That’s kind of our running joke. They always wanted us to bond, and so we bonded, and then they got mad because we bonded,” Chaparro said during a recent interview. The UC Berkeley alum was reminiscing on nearly four years ago, when she met Foo, who was seated nearby listening thoughtfully to her partner of almost two years.
Chaparro, a sophomore when she pledged ADX in fall 2010, said she was looking to find a wider group of friends, and, having grown up in a Chilean Catholic family, she sought a Christian organization to find girls with similar values. She was instantly impressed with the group of bright and engaging women in Beta, the UC Berkeley chapter of Alpha Delta Chi, a national Christian sorority with 17 active chapters on college campuses across the United states.
“I knew I wanted something that was faith-based, because my faith is important to me,” Chaparro said. “I went to the first rush event and I fell in love, and I was like, ‘This is where I want to be.’ ”
Foo, who has the same petite build as Chaparro but donning a dark pixie haircut and an intense gaze, piped up. She said she originally wasn’t sure whether she wanted to join a sorority at all, because she never saw herself as particularly girly. Until the sisters of ADX explicitly asked her to join, Foo didn’t think they even liked her, really.
“For some reason, they thought I would be a good fit,” she said.
And she was, at first.
“I came to know the house better than anyone in the house except for maybe one or two people,” Foo said. “I spent a lot of time with these girls … and now a lot of them won’t even look at me.”
One week before they quietly became a couple at the end of spring 2012, Foo and Chaparro were elected chapter president and devotional chair, respectively. But some weeks later, during a time when they should have been thrilled about their new relationship and leadership positions, Foo and Chaparro were worried.
Both were struggling to reconcile their faith with their newly discovered sexual identities and, even more seriously, worried that their budding romance would be a conflict of interest because they now held the two top positions in the house.
In late July, Foo reached out to Munn Saechao, ADX Beta’s alumnae chapter adviser, to let her know she and Chaparro were officially together and to ask whether their relationship constituted a conflict of interest. Saechao said she would ask the national adviser liaison, who in turn conferred with ADX’s national board president, Casey Chan, according to Foo.
“I cried the whole flight back,” Chaparro said. “Within a matter of days, we were just let go.”
On Aug. 4 of that year, Saechao called Foo, who was traveling abroad.
Saechao relayed the news matter-of-factly. Chan, along with National Adviser Liaison Susan Potter, had decided that if the women continued their relationship, their ADX membership would be considered “delinquent.” It wasn’t even a matter of Chaparro and Foo holding leadership positions — they could not be a part of the sorority at all if they remained in a same-sex relationship.
Apparently, they were in violation of an ADX membership requirement stating that all sisters must embody a “willingness to avoid situations which would cause one’s brother or sister to stumble.”
Saechao did not respond to requests for comment.
Foo, at the Acropolis in Athens, called Chaparro, who was at an airport in Ireland, sobbing. Their community — and their faith — had rejected them.
“I cried the whole flight back,” Chaparro said. “Within a matter of days, we were just let go.”
Before they became entangled in a romance that would later lead to their withdrawal from the sorority, Chaparro and Foo were the best of friends, drawn together by similar interests and a shared faith in Christianity.
Emma Young, an ADX sister who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2011, remembers Chaparro and Foo as being among the most dedicated Christians in the sorority. As devotional chair in spring 2011, Young organized weekly Bible readings and recalls Foo and Chaparro as the only women who regularly showed up.
“They both had a pretty strong faith and weren’t afraid to talk about whatever passages we were (reading),” she said. “Some people kind of absorb it, and (Foo and Chaparro) really tried to crunch through it.”
Although Foo was good friends with most of the women in the sorority, it was Chaparro to whom she grew closest.
Both say it was a rather mismatched pairing. Foo, more stoic and matter-of-fact, was raised in a family in which emotions weren’t anyone else’s business, while Chaparro hails from a close-knit family in which sharing feelings is encouraged and guests are always welcome at the dinner table.
“They were the best of friends; (they would) always hang out together,” recalled Katie Engelby, an ADX sister who deactivated from the sorority at the end of last semester for personal reasons. “I don’t think either of them knew they were (queer). It caught them off guard.”
“This kind of didn’t fit into the ‘best-friend box’,” Chaparro said.
Foo and Chaparro were soon spending hours together, just talking. It wasn’t until the end of spring 2012, however, that they began to realize their relationship was more than platonic.
When Foo experienced a sudden health scare that semester, Chaparro found herself nearly panicking. She was short of breath and on the verge of tears, and she sat with Foo in the hospital until her friend felt better. It was over the top — far beyond what someone who was just a good friend might feel when a companion falls ill.
“This kind of didn’t fit into the ‘best-friend box’,” Chaparro said.
They started exploring the possibility of expanding the parameters of that box and weeks later realized they had left that frame entirely.
It was the first same-sex relationship either had ever been in — and one that has turned them into activists against the very sorority that first brought them together.
One Monday near the start of the fall semester in 2012, Foo and Chaparro faced more than 20 anxious stares of girls they called sisters and read letters explaining why they were stepping down from their positions in the sorority.
They had been forced into what they saw as an unfathomable corner — made to choose between one organization’s notion of faith or their personal affections. Faced with either ending their relationship or being made delinquent in the sorority per the board president’s directive, they chose to stay together.
The memory of their speeches remains blurred, a recollection both say is too painful to relive. Chaparro recalls only “a lot of tears.”
“We read our letters and left, and their meeting continued,” Chaparro said.
While Engelby, the ADX sister who recently deactivated, was ecstatic for her two friends, many others in the sorority were simply speechless. “No one really knew how to react,” she said.
Engelby said that while not all the girls in the sorority supported the relationship, many were angered by the perceived injustice of the ADX national board unilaterally kicking the girls out without input from the Berkeley chapter.
“Homosexuality is not of God,” ADX’s national board president said to the Beta chapter.
Emma Young, the ADX alum, spearheaded a letter-writing campaign and, along with other alumnae, began to scour the sorority’s constitution to find a loophole to undermine the national board president’s decision. Around 30 ADX alumnae, along with a handful of sisters, wrote letters in support of Chaparro and Foo, praising their quality of character and arguing that it was not right that Christians with different beliefs be forced out of an organization that claims to welcome all those who accept Christ.
While examining ADX’s constitution, an alumna discovered that the national board was not allowed to declare a member “delinquent” without at least a three-fourths vote by the chapter to which the member belonged. The board, in other words, had violated its own constitution in making the girls delinquent.
It was the beginning of a messy and painful semester for the chapter.
On Sept. 3, 2012, UC Berkeley’s ADX chapter, including Foo and Chaparro, skyped with Casey Chan, ADX’s national board president, and Susan Potter, the sorority’s national adviser liaison, to discuss the situation.
The conversation, according to Young, who was at the house at the time of the call, was “not the most graceful.”
Multiple sources present at the time of the call say Chan told the chapter she recognized that Beta had a right to vote on whether to allow Foo and Chaparro to remain in ADX. She warned, however, that if the house voted to allow them to stay, the entire chapter could lose its charter completely — a devastating threat to a group of women whose entire community was centered on ADX.
“Homosexuality is not of God,” Chan told the girls in the chapter.
The conversation mirrored a broader theological debate being argued among Christians around the world. Many point to specific Bible verses, such as Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27, as clear condemnations of same-sex relations, while others argue that the Bible is a general guide to ethics from an earlier time and should not be interpreted literally.
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.” — Leviticus 20:13, NIV
The call, while cordial, brimmed with simmering exasperation on both sides.
Sources who were included in the call said Chan told the chapter that she has multiple friends and family members who are homosexual and that while she accepts them, she would not put them in Christian leadership roles.
ADX is supposed to be interdenominational, Foo argued. What about Christians who support same-sex relationships?
In a statement sent to The Daily Californian on behalf of the entire ADX sorority and national board, Chan said that ADX is committed to Christian moral teachings and that the Bible is the sorority’s ultimate authority for its values, attitudes and behavior.
“From UC Berkeley to Azusa Pacific to Illinois State to Georgia Tech to Seton Hall, ADX chapters reflect a diversity of persons, practices, and policies, but are united by the universal Christian vocation ‘to be conformed to the image of His Son.’ Romans 8:29,” the statement reads.
On Sept. 10, the girls in UC Berkeley’s chapter of ADX voted on whether to stand by Foo and Chaparro. Later that night, their president sent an email with the results of that vote to the entire chapter.
“God gave them over to shameful lusts … Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” — Romans 1:26-27, NIV
Engelby said she was a jumble of nerves, waiting to find out the fate of her friends. She opened the email.
The chapter had voted to let them stay.
“Unfortunately, the next thing that hit us was, ‘OK, what is national board going to do now?’” Engelby said.
The response from ADX’s national board was swift. Beta was quickly made inactive and lost funding for all scheduled social events, which were replaced with Bible study. The girls were instructed to read evangelical pastor Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life.” No new pledges would be recruited that semester.
Foo and Chaparro say they felt that some of the sisters blamed them for Beta’s suspension, and the couple began to feel uncomfortable. They began to isolate themselves, forcing the uncomfortable chasm in the house to widen.
A person close to the situation who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of what happened said that while opinions were split on the topic of homosexuality, none of the girls believed ADX’s national board had handled Chaparro and Foo’s coming out well.
“We all thought the (national board’s) measures were excessive, but really did not know what to do,” the source said in an email. “Even with the varying stances on homosexuality, we did not think the decision to kick them out was right and we all felt stuck as to what to do.”
Foo, however, believes the chapter’s initial sense of injustice regarding the national board’s policy violation was slowly eroded by the increasing stagnation of the situation. She said her sorority sisters’ focus soon shifted to the nature of her relationship with Chaparro and determining whether it was biblically acceptable.
Foo said that the couple’s withdrawal from active participation in the “tattered remains of Beta’s community” was badly received and that many girls took it to mean the couple didn’t want to remain members at all.
While that semester was demoralizing for Foo and Chaparro, it was also difficult for other girls in ADX, said the source close to the situation. Many felt alienated and began to avoid one another, mired in confusion and hurt.
In early November, Foo and Chaparro officially withdrew their membership from ADX. They again faced the two dozen girls they were once close to and read letters announcing they were leaving.
One girl — Engelby — asked them to stay.
“They had read their letters and were about to head out, and I said, ‘Don’t leave.’ I said, ‘Don’t go out that door.’ ” Engelby recalled. “They kind of just turned to me and looked back at the door and walked out.”
Foo and Chaparro officially packed up their bedrooms in December and left ADX forever.
According to the source close to the situation, Foo and Chaparro left behind a house that was broken, disheartened and utterly exhausted.
“Relief is certainly not something we felt,” she said. “Even months following the incident, we still felt a sense of anguish.”
In the statement from ADX’s national board, Chan said that the UC Berkeley chapter unanimously expressed a desire for Chaparro and Foo to stay in the organization and that it was the couple’s choice to deactivate.
“The Berkeley chapter did the best that they could to support and love Kylie and Sophia, two sisters who were dearly cared for by the Berkeley Chapter,” the statement reads.
A few weeks after Chaparro and Foo officially left ADX, the sorority’s national board reactivated the UC Berkeley chapter.
At first, Foo and Chaparro stayed far away from the sorority. Chaparro, in her last semester at UC Berkeley, kept her head down and waited impatiently for graduation.
“I was like, ‘Make it to May, and get out of here,’ ’’ Chaparro said.
Foo, meanwhile, began to learn in earnest about the queer community while working at the campus Gender Equity Resource Center.
“I spent the semester learning what it means to be queer,” she said.
As both grappled with their new identities — and their suddenly shrunken social circle — Foo and Chaparro’s resentment about their treatment at ADX grew.
“We just couldn’t let them get away with it,” Chaparro said.
And so just a few months after promising never to return to ADX, Foo, now a senior, and Chaparro, an alumna, were back in front of the house for fall rush 2013. But this time, it was with bright protest signs and a fervent belief that no one should receive the treatment they had experienced.
“We’re making it very clear that what happened to us could happen again,” Chaparro said. “If you’re OK with that, I guess walk in. But if you’re not, you’ve been warned.”
Chan may have recognized that the national board — under her leadership — did not handle the situation as best it could. In a letter dated Sept. 5, 2013, ADX’s president apologized for any hurt she may have caused Foo and Chaparro.
“I am praying for you both,” she wrote in the four-sentence letter.
Chan had faced pressure not only from Foo and Chaparro but also from angry alumni.
According to the unnamed source, the letter-writing campaign had, in some ways, turned into a vitriolic drive against Chan. The campaign was well-intended, she said, but “ended up being hateful.”
“We forget that they’re human and that this wasn’t easy for them either,” the source said of ADX’s leadership in an email. “It couldn’t have been easy for her to not act emotionally in all this.”
Foo and Chaparro’s protest, which resumed for Rush Week Spring 2014, has not come without a cost. Some girls who remain in ADX’s Beta chapter feel personally attacked for something that was not their fault. In fact, they say, they fought to keep Foo and Chaparro in the sorority.
“We did risk our charter to stand by these girls,” Engelby said. “Whatever the (national) sorority did is also being taken out on the girls in the chapter.”
Engelby said the girls’ signs and language make it seem as if it were the chapter that kicked them out, when many of the controversial decisions came from ADX’s national board. Engelby added that she still considers Foo and Chaparro sisters and will continue to fight for them.
“But when they phrase it as the entirety of ADX is homophobic and the entirety of ADX is hypocritical … it hurts,” she said.
In a statement to the Daily Cal, Rhianna Dutra, UC Berkeley ADX’s current chapter president, said the sorority is still recovering from what happened in fall 2012.
“Despite what anyone says or how things look, Kylie and Sophia became sisters when they pledged and will remain our sisters bound by love,” she said. “We don’t need an organization to love one another. No matter what happens in life, the bonds that were created will remain.”
Since Foo and Chaparro left ADX, the campus chapter has dissociated from UC Berkeley after being warned by administrators in January 2014 that it was not in compliance with certain campus policies, according to Brandon Tsubaki, an assistant director at the LEAD Center, which oversees Greek life at UC Berkeley. Many people knowledgeable about the situation said the complaint from the campus cited policies prohibiting organizations from excluding members based on their religion, not policies aimed at preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The local ADX chapter chose to end its affiliation with the campus in early February to avoid having to accept non-Christians into its membership in accordance with campus nondiscrimination policies. In this position, the sorority no longer receives funding or administrative support from UC Berkeley, although UC Berkeley students may still be active in the organization, according to Tsubaki.
Although Chaparro and Foo say they recognize that the campus has done everything it could to address their grievances, both believe justice has not fully been served.
Their original goal in protesting the sorority — that nobody would face discrimination at the hands of ADX in the future and, according to Chaparro, “that all of ADX ceases to exist” — has now morphed into broader activism for acceptance and support for queer Christians.
While picketing, the pair said, they met a number of people who “didn’t realize that being queer and being Christian was a possibility.”
“ADX introduced us to the seemingly impossible position of the queer Christian and how weakly supported that position can be in the world,” Foo said. Whatever her future holds, Foo believes she will always be involved in the Christian queer community.
Although Chaparro and Foo say their faith was tested by their experience over the past two years, they remain steadfast in their beliefs — as well as in their love for each other.
“It makes me really sad when people think of Christianity as a hateful and discriminatory religion, and organizations like ADX do nothing to help that,” Foo said. “We’re supposed to be one of the most welcoming and most helpful and most loving faiths, and when there are atheists that seem to be more loving than most Christians, there’s something wrong with that.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Kylie Foo took gender and women’s studies courses.