An alumni network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) alumni was first conceived on Christmas Eve in 1998. While working late in his office, Matt Paco (CLAS ’95) wrote a letter to Wayne Cozart of the UVa Alumni Association and Professors Bernard Mayes and Charlotte Patterson detailing the need for such an alumni organization and a plan to establish one.
Through word of mouth and with the support of the Alumni Association, the Office of the Dean of Students, and the Women’s Center, a dedicated band of alumni, students, faculty, and friends stepped forward to make an LGBT alumni organization a reality.
The name QVA: Queer Virginia Alumni Network was chosen by majority vote, and two local chapters were founded: the Washington, D.C. chapter and the New York City chapter. The QVA had its first national meeting at the Cyber Stop Cafe in Washington, D.C. on July 31, 1999.
Gabriel de Guzman (’96), Brian Eley (’93), Brian Gibson (’97), Marc Haeringer (’01), Jon Hutton (’69), Steven Kung (’99), Ted Mills (’90), Eddie Nelms (’00), Matt Paco (’95), and Kate Ranson-Walsh (’02) were in attendance. That evening Jim Adams (’96) and Jonathan Boyles (’96) hosted a cocktail party at their apartment.
The Origin of the Name “The Serpentine Society”
Originally our name was the QVA: Queer Virginia Alumni Network, but several members expressed concern about this name since the term “queer” continues to have a negative connotation for many people. During the first LGBT Alumni Weekend in 1999, the Board of Directors decided that the organization should have a new name that was directly connected with UVa and was not divisive.
Names like the Stonewall Society were offered, but it was felt that incorporating words like “rainbow,” “stonewall,” or “pride” would be too generic. Kyle Ranson-Walsh suggested the name The Serpentine Society, and it was voted in as the new name for two reasons.
First, our name, The Serpentine Society, has a direct connection with U.Va. because of Jefferson’s serpentine walls throughout the Academical Village. According to the Library of Congress, the use of serpentine walls on the grounds of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville reveals at least three of Thomas Jefferson’s strengths – his frugality as a builder, his interest in horticulture, and his ingenuity.
Building a wall that curves uses twenty five percent fewer bricks than building a straight wall because a curved wall supports itself and can be only one brick thick instead of the two-brick thickness required to keep a straight wall standing. And, once built, a serpentine wall provides the gardener with locations that provide light or shade at particular times of day or seasons of the year, whichever might be best for a unique or delicate plant set out in that location.
Second, the name is appealing because serpentine walls are not straight, and neither are we.
So instead of being a straight society, we are a serpentine society, which covers the whole gamut of the sexual orientation and gender identity rainbow: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, bi-curious, queer and questioning.