The College of William & Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae (W&M GALA) was organized in 1986 by alumnus Steve Snell '66, the organization's first president, along with Harlan Powell and Professor George Greenia. The group has worked with and offered financial and leadership support to campus student organizations such as the Lambda Alliance (formerly Lesbian and Gay Student Union), the Gay Student Support Group and Alternatives. In 1990, GALA successfully campaigned to have "sexual orientation" added to the College's non-discrimination policy, and in 1991 joined the fight to have anti-homosexual language removed from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverages Control Board's liquor license code. The mission of GALA is to advocate for and provide education to straight, gay and lesbian students and alumni through, according to their mission statement, "fundraising and direct participation support for alumni/ae through networking, social community and Homecoming events."
GALA encountered open hostility from the College, the Society of the Alumni, and the public in its early years. Among GALA's early goals were the wish to be recognized as a legitimate component of the William & Mary community by the College and the Society of the Alumni, inclusion of sexual orientation in all of the College's anti-discrimination policies, spousal equivalency information in alumni publications, and inclusion of its events in alumni and homecoming publications. GALA was opposed on these issues in a fight that eventually played itself out in the media. The battles were often contentious, sometimes rancorous, but ultimately successful in changing policies and practices. Today, William & Mary has more encompassing anti-discrimination policies, GALA's events are regularly included in homecoming literature, class notes in the William & Mary Alumni Magazine list surviving domestic partners, and GALA has successfully collaborated with many individuals and organizations on campus.
Numerous faculty, staff, students, alumni, and members of the general public weighed in on both sides of LGBTQ issues being discussed on campus. The opinions expressed were not unlike those that were similarly entering the public discourse nationally. Excerpts from some of the letters received by GALA and the College of William & Mary are reproduced here, including the first message from an informant that fed administrative documents and insider information to GALA.
GALA has participated in several gay pride events in Washington, D.C., Boston, and Richmond, including two national marches on Washington. It has also spearheaded several campus initiatives, including the establishment of a library endowment for books, working with the Student Health Center and the Office of Residence Life to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and safer sex initiatives, providing sensitivity training to campus security personnel, partnering with several academic departments to fund the annual John Boswell lecture series, as well as providing funding and leadership for several student-led endeavors. New and continuing ways to support William & Mary are under discussion such as an endowed chair for gender or sexuality studies.
GALA has a rich tradition of social events. During Homecoming weekend, there is a host hotel, a hospitality suite, group meals, and frequently an on-campus event. Regional events have included holiday, cocktail, and pool parties, as well as a crab crack. The 1993 Homecoming banquet in conjunction with William & Mary's 300th Anniversary was GALA's largest on-campus presence to date. An honored guest and speaker at the 20th anniversary banquet in 2006 was President Gene Nichol, the first appearance by a William & Mary President at a GALA event.
Other GALA battles met with mixed success. GALA signed on as one of the plaintiffs in an organized state-wide effort to have archaic ABC regulations overturned. One of the regulations at issue made it illegal in Virginia for homosexuals to serve alcoholic beverages. While the law was sporadically enforced, it was used as a tool for police harassment of gay bars. The courts sided with the plaintiffs and the offensive regulations were eventually overturned. Less successful was the effort by GALA to remove ROTC from campus because of the discriminatory practices of the military, in particular the policy known as "don't ask, don't tell." This battle was fought both locally and nationally by GALA and student organizations, but the power of the federal government to withhold funding ultimately defeated arguments opposed to ROTC on many university campuses.
Richard Cornish Endowment Fund
The Richard Cornish Endowment Fund was created by W&M GALA, in consultation with the Earl Gregg Swem Library in 1993. The initial campaign, to raise the minimum $25,000 required for a named endowment, was made in honor of Michael Lee Goodrich '80. Subsequent campaigns and individual donations have raised the principal on the endowment to over $100,000. The Cornish Fund is currently one of Swem Library's largest endowment funds. Each year, the proceeds from this fund purchase a wealth of materials in a variety of academic disciplines including history, theatre, film, religion, education, African American studies, American studies, and others that Swem Library could not otherwise acquire.
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- William & Mary GALA (Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae Records in SCRC University Archives
- GALA in SCRC Digital Archive
- SCRC Subject File.
- Out at Swem Library exhibit.