Serpentine Society Vision Statement
We, the Serpentine Society of the University of Virginia, are an inclusive alumni/ae organization dedicated to reaching out to and advocating for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) UVA alumni/ae, faculty, and students by connecting to each other and to the University.
To provide educational, charitable, and social welfare services for, on behalf of, and in furtherance of the interests of the University of Virginia and its LGBTQ alumni, students, faculty, and staff.
- Pursue Equality: From its inception, the Serpentine Society has advocated for and contributed significantly to the advancement of LGBTQ equality at the University, including the recently won same-sex domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff and the inclusion of gender identity in the University’s non-discrimination policy.
- Enrich LGBTQ Student Life: Through ongoing grant support, we provide program funding to the LGBTQ Center and queer student organizations on Grounds enabling them to deliver programs and services with a margin of excellence.
- Empower Promising Students: Presently, we administer two endowed scholarship funds, The Jeffrey L. Reider & Charles F. Otis Endowed Scholarship and the John A. Herring Scholarship Award for Social Awareness. Now, these funds collectively award three $5,000 scholarships annually to promising LGBTQ and allied students, helping them achieve their full academic and leadership potential.
- Invest in LGBTQ Studies: We partner with the Women, Gender, and Sexuality program of the College & Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and the College Foundation to raise funds in support of the LGBTQ Studies curriculum and faculty development.
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.
On April 15, 2000, the Board of Managers of the University of Virginia Alumni Association voted to officially admit the Serpentine Society as a permanent part of the Alumni Association.
In late 2001, the LGBT Center was founded under the Office of the Dean of Students and the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs, with generous support from the Serpentine Society.
Ever since, the Serpentine Society has worked to regularly support and engage with the at UVa student and alumni LGBTQ+ community.
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.
Our Relationship with the Alumni Association
The Serpentine Society is an Alumni Interest Group (AIG) of the University of Virginia Alumni Association. Alumni Interest Groups (AIGs) are communities of alumni that have built a tie or bond to each other as part of the University experience.
The AIG program offers UVA alumni, family, and friends opportunities to engage in the life of the University in Charlottesville and as well as regions across the country. These groups are volunteer organizations dedicated to celebrating connections, providing enrichment, and continuing UVA’s tradition of service.
Any amount donated to The Serpentine Society or paid above the individual cost of an event is tax deductible. The Alumni Association will issue receipts to donors on the Serpentine Society’s behalf.