Forty years since its founding in 1978, the Lambda Alliance at the College of William and Mary is implementing a new organizational model: The Rainbow Coalition. 

The Lambda Alliance was originally created to provide a supportive space for LGBTQ+ identifying people on campus. According to their constitution, which was last updated March 22, the purpose of the Lambda Alliance is to provide a social space to educate about and advocate for the gender, romantic and sexual diversity of the College community. This is done by promoting awareness of issues pertaining to the community while establishing a support network of concerned and interested individuals, regardless of sexual, romantic or gender identity. However, some students worry that the Lambda Alliance is in over its head and cannot address the needs of all LGBTQ+ students on campus without significantly changing its structure.

“Our community is huge, and Lambda was not built to handle it,” Lambda Alliance Activism Co-Chair Alexina Haefner ’19 said.  

“Our community is huge, and Lambda was not built to handle it,” Lambda Alliance Activism Co-Chair Alexina Haefner ’19 said. 

The Rainbow Coalition aims to take some of the burden off of the Lambda Alliance to represent every single LGBTQ+ voice on campus. The coalition would be an events-based organization consisting of an executive board in charge of programming events and affinity groups focused on building a community. 

The organization’s new constitution and name change were ratified at the Lambda Alliance’s LGBTQ Student Community General Meeting and Forum April 3 in Tucker Hall Theater. The results of the vote were 32 yea and one nay. 

Haefner proposed the restructuring and then worked on the plan along with the rest of the Lambda executive board, as well as with Associate Director of the Center for Student Diversity Roxie Patton and Director of Student Leadership Development Anne Arseneau. 

“A meeting-based model, while it creates a great social space and builds a strong community for those who attend meetings regularly, doesn’t serve the needs of the broader LGBTQ+ community in the way an event-based model can,” Haefner said. “We’re essentially eliminating the idea of membership or a dominant club culture for the Rainbow Coalition — it’s here to serve the LGBTQ+ student community and respond to diverse needs with programming in lots of different areas, geared towards different subsets of the community.” 

Haefner said that she is optimistic about what the relationship between Lambda Alliance and Rainbow Coalition will be going forward. She said that the Rainbow Coalition model will allow Lambda executive members to focus on the social programming at the core of their club, which creates a space for LGBTQ+ students to form tight-knit communities, instead of being expected to be an educational and activism organization in addition to a social one. 

“Rainbow Coalition, on the other hand, will be able to develop better educational events, activism initiatives and events for students who are often under-served by the broader LGBTQ+ community, namely students of color and trans and nonbinary students,” Haefner said. 

Membership in Rainbow Coalition will be divided into two sections, the first composed of voting members and the second of affiliate members. To qualify as a voting member, one must have attended at least one Rainbow Coalition event. 

“I think the large majority of students are on board with this change,” Glover said. 

Ryan Glover ’21, who serves as the Lambda Alliance’s activism co-chair along with Haefner, has also been involved with the restructuring discussion process. While Glover said they think the Rainbow Coalition might face issues with advertising itself and promoting events, they believe students are generally supportive of this change. 

“Based on the forum that was held in which we passed the constitution, the regular club meetings in which we have talked about the Rainbow Coalition, and my personal conversations with students both within and without the Lambda Alliance, I think the large majority of students are on board with this change,” Glover said. 

Glover said they hope the Rainbow Coalition constitution will help create a more inclusive organization for LGBTQ+ students on this campus, independently of how heavily they are involved with LGBTQ+ events. 

“Though we will still be part of one big LGBTQ+ family, the two organizations will eventually, I think, be their own separate entities — which I think is for the best, for both Lambda and the Rainbow Coalition,” Glover said. 

This restructuring effort was first announced to the community in an email sent out to the Lambda Alliance listserv March 25. 

“We know that over the past few years, people’s experiences with Lambda have been varied,” the executive board said in the email. “While some students say Lambda has been a formative part of their time at W&M, others have had negative experiences. An LGBTQ student organization should serve the needs of all LGBTQ students on campus, not just those who go to Lambda meetings. Lambda was initially formed to serve a small, mostly closeted LGBTQ population, not the 600+ students with diverse needs that we are today. We are saddened by the possibility that some students have not had the support they needed, been able to feel part of their LGBTQ community, or felt connected to LGBTQ history and identity during their time at W&M.” 

According to the proposal, the Rainbow Coalition would organize discussions, movie-showings, speakers and major events like Pride, Queer Night of Expression and Queer Prom, and students can be involved with as many or as few events as they choose.

The Rainbow Coalition student leadership would be made up of a president, a treasurer/public relations chair, the student assembly undersecretary for LGBTQIA affairs, an education chair, an activism chair, a queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) chair and a trans/non-binary affairs chair. These positions would include working closely with administrative facilitators at the CSD and the LGBT Implementation Team. 

The applications for Rainbow Coalition executive board in its first year will be reviewed and decided by Patton. In following years, they will be decided by elections. Patton said in the process of reviewing applications that she will be looking for candidates with a clear understanding of the mission and vision of the organization, as well as a broad knowledge of intersectionality and of serving LGBTQ+ students from diverse backgrounds.

“I know one of the things a lot of folks are really excited about is the QTPOC positions,” Patton said. “Because for a long time, queer and trans people of color on this campus have felt a lack of representation.”  

“I know one of the things a lot of folks are really excited about is the QTPOC positions,” Patton said. “Because for a long time, queer and trans people of color on this campus have felt a lack of representation. So making sure that the folks who are looking at how we create this big picture community are ready to take on that task or at least open to some solid mentoring to make sure that that’s what happening.” 

However, Lambda won’t be vanishing somewhere over the rainbow — it will become a Rainbow Coalition affinity group with a social focus, and continue to have weekly meetings. A majority of executive members in Rainbow Coalition can vote to approve an affinity group, and the process to grant the Lambda Alliance affinity group status is already being expedited by Student Leadership Development and is expected to be approved early next academic year.