The sight of College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley standing in front of four drag queens ushered in the LGBTIQ Pride Fest Friday.
The first of its kind in College history, the festival mustered a sense of awareness, tolerance and predominately pride, from the roughly 300 people who gathered in the Crim Dell Meadow for music, performances and tabling.
Reveley struck a wary yet optimistic tone, disappointing some attendees as he reminded the crowd that progress does not always come as fast as they wish.
“I think you all are fully aware that we are living in an era of remarkable and constant change,” Reveley said. “I really grew up in the 1950s … and that was the last gasp of an era where if you were a white, heterosexual male in the United States, you really had the world by the tail. You were a privileged class. The difference between the United States of the early 21st century and the one I grew up in is almost unimaginable.”
As evidence of such change, Reveley pointed out that the College recently appointed its first openly gay rector, Jeffrey Trammell, which was met with applause and cheers from the crowd.
“So even though the progress is always much slower than we want … I’m telling you, we have made an incomparable amount of progress in my lifetime, and I don’t think it is going to stop. I think it is almost irreversible,” Reveley said.
While some did not agree that white, heterosexual privilege has quite died out, others wished that Reveley had acknowledged what needs to be done in the fight for LBTIQ equality.
“I appreciate President Reveley being there — I think it says something good about the College — but at the same time, there are a lot of things that need to be done. His speech didn’t address a lot of the things we have been working on,” Undersecretary of LGBTQ affairs for the SA Kim Green ’13 said. “I wish it would have addressed the language in the anti-discrimination policy.”
The President’s words then gave way to drag performances and other live music at the event.
While the festival was a first for the College, it is already commonplace at other colleges like James Madison University, and some view the festival as a long-awaited addition to the College’s events.
“Today in the Crim Dell Meadow we have drag and makeup and body painting and glitter — this is for fun but also for us all to come together in numbers to queer the space and celebrate gender as performance and as a fluid expression. While things may ‘get better’ for some and society might slowly [become] more accepting … together, lets all promise that we aren’t going to wait. We are fighting,” Laura Andrews ’12, the main organizer of the event, said. “In every conversation, with every outfit, with every raised hand in class and moment of confidence — we are working together in the belief of the radical, redemptive, and transformative power of love to change the world.”
Andrews went on to paint a much different picture than Reveley of progress and equality for the LGBTIQ community.
“We are in this fight here, together, today. When I was hiring drag queens, we talked about the risks of being out and genderqueer during the daytime, sober, in small numbers, in Virginia,” Andrews said. “The fear of violence, the stares, the comments — all the ways we are policed and told exactly who we are and who we should be and who we should love and what we should look like. We were not born this way. Stop that message. Shut the fuck up Lady Gaga. We were born naked, and you probably don’t even remember that happening.”
For one drag queen, the fight was very real even within the College walls.
“I used to go here thirty years ago, and we would all go to Tuesday nights at the Green Leafe,” Eunita Biscuit said. “And I was told that there are no gays in Williamsburg. Well, I’ve lived here for 30 years, and my partner lives in Williamsburg. There are a lot of us.”
Past and present marginalization necessitated the Pride Fest to be as visible as possible.
“A lot of people were very enthusiastic about the idea when it first emerged. They wanted something very visible,” Assistant Director for the College’s Center for Student Diversity Margaret Cook said. “It was very significant that Reveley came out. He was very enthusiastic when he was asked. There was a time when students didn’t want to acknowledge members of the LGBTQ community — I think President Reveley said it best when he said that the most important thing is to have integrity.”
Green’s initial idea to have an LGBTIQ walk for the annual multicultural event that the SA Department of Diversity Initiatives usually hosts was replaced by the Pride Fest early on in the spring semester.
“Throughout the semester, I didn’t feel passionate about a walk,” Green said. “That wouldn’t get the point across, that wouldn’t create enough representation [for] the LGBTIQ community. Some people didn’t think we would be able to pull it off.”
Yet Green noted there was a very enthusiastic response from the community once the Pride Fest was announced. An assortment of campus organizations acted as co-sponsors of the event, including the women’s studies department, the SA; I Am W&M week, Ludwell Hall Council, Jamestown Hall Council, William and Mary Residence Hall Association, Voices for Planned Parenthood and the Center for Student Diversity.
“I think it is a great idea,” Kevin Kosanovich, a doctoral candidate who was tabling for the Mason School of Business Stephens Project, which documents the lives of LGBTIQ alumni, said. “They are an important part of the community that needs to be recognized.”
Many also took advantage of the opportunity for free HIV testing, sponsored by the Eastern Virginia AIDS network, which took place alongside to the event.