When William and Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae (GALA) was formed in 1986, the College of William and Mary had no policies barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The College had no recognized voice speaking out for the needs of its openly LGBTIQ students. After their graduation, it offered these new alumni no formal means of networking and socializing in a friendly and accepting atmosphere. In Virginia in 1986, it was against the law for a public establishment to serve as a meeting place for lesbians and gay men or to serve them alcohol.
A lot of things have changed since 1986.
William and Mary GALA has grown into an international network of hundreds of loyal alumni and friends of the College. We are one of the nation’s oldest and most firmly established sexual minority alumni organizations, with a demonstrated ability to make things happen:
- We were a major force in lobbying the College to include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policies.
- We have raised over $100,000 to establish and maintain one of the College’s largest library endowments, The Richard Cornish Endowment Fund, for the purchase of gay and lesbian resources for Swem Library. The fund is named in honor of the first person in English America to have been executed for homosexual conduct, sea captain Richard Cornish. Cornish was hanged at Jamestown in 1624/25. The grisly story of his execution and the aftermath is recounted in Jonathan Katz’s book, Gay American History (Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York, 1976).
- We have established a grant fund to provide William and Mary’s gay and lesbian student organization with funding assistance for their projects and programs. We have been able to offer them financial support when they have needed it, and have marched with them in many Homecoming parades. GALA members attend occasional LGBTIQ student meetings.
- In cooperation with the Department of History, we established a lecture series exploring the history of sexuality in memory of Dr. John E. Boswell – an alumnus of the College (Class of 1969), Harvard PhD, Professor of History at Yale, author of three books dealing with the history of sexuality, and with “gay” history especially. Dr. Boswell was a pioneer in these fields, breaking new ground in historiography. He died in 1994 and was an early member of GALA. The Boswell Lecture Series has enabled the campus to hear from distinguished scholars who have been inspired by Boswell’s life and work. These lectures help to bring the hidden history of minority sexuality into focus at William and Mary.
- At Homecoming, GALA sponsors a full weekend of events p published in the College’s official Homecoming schedule – where members and friends socialize, renew old acquaintances, and make new ones.
- We have sponsored, and continue to sponsor, advertising campaigns in the Flat Hat, the student newspaper, promoting social tolerance.
- As a result of a lawsuit filed by GALA and others, the courts overturned the anti-gay provisions of Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control laws.
- …and these are just a few of our many accomplishments which have enriched the William and Mary environment.
William and Mary GALA has made history. And that’s just the beginning!
GALA is dedicated to expanding the freedom to express gender and sexual identity in many different forms. We want to create a community at William and Mary which supports this liberty in accepting and inclusive ways – ways that contribute to the academic life of the community.
We would like to have you as a member! You don’t have to be gay or a former William and Mary student to join GALA. Anyone who wants to help provide academic and social support to gay students, alumni, and faculty is welcome. And, for your privacy, our mailing list is confidential and not sold, shared, or distributed. Join GALA now: GALA Membership Form.
WMGALA is also on Facebook and Twitter! — If you enjoy the easy and addicting personal contact that social networking offers, please join us at the W&M GALA page on Facebook and follow W&M GALA on Twitter. Hope to see you there!