History

Founding

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.


Milestones

1998

An alumni network lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) alumni was first conceived on Christmas Eve in 1998. While working late in his office, Matt Paco (College ’95) wrote a letter to Wayne Cozart of the University of Virginia Alumni Association and Professors Bernard Mayes and Charlotte Patterson detailing the need for such an alumni organization and a plan to establish one.

In the spring of 1992, Mayes and Patterson had co-founded UVA Pride, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Faculty, Staff & Graduate Student Association to serve the needs of the LGBT members of the University of Virginia community.

1999

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.

On July 31, 1999, the QVA had its first national meeting at the Cyber Stop Cafe in Washington, D.C. 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 Kyle Ranson-Walsh (’02) were in attendance. Later that evening Jim Adams (’96) and Jonathan Boyles (’96) hosted a cocktail party at their apartment.

The first Fall Weekend was held at the Ivy Inn in Charlottesville and the Bernard D. Mayes Award was presented to its namesake.

2000

In January 2000, the San Francisco chapter was founded and in March 2000, The Serpentine Society ratified its constitution and bylaws.

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 ending the Society’s probationary period and cementing our Alumni Interest Group status and starting a rapidly evolving relationship with Alumni Hall.

In June 2000, we hosted the first official LGBT alumni event during Class Reunions Weekend.

In October 2000, we hosted the 2nd Annual LGBT Alumni Weekend at U.Va that included an alumni dinner and ball where we awarded the Bernard D. Mayes Award to Michelle Benecke (College ’83). Benecke founded the Service Members Legal Defense Network, which works to end all discriminatory practices against gay, lesbians, and bisexuals in the military. The Society also hosted an open-house for the newly established Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Student Resource Center on Grounds.

2001

In March 2001, The Serpentine Society, Inc. was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in the District of Columbia.

In June 2001, LGBT alumni returned for Reunions Weekend and the Society hosted both educational activities and social events.

In September 2001, we held the 3rd Annual LGBT Alumni Weekend and honored Bob Witeck (College ’74) with the 3rd annual Bernard D. Mayes Award for his innovative LGBT audience focused marketing campaigns for Fortune 100 companies like American Airlines.

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 and with office space provided initially by the Women’s Center through the support of Sharon Davie and Claire Kaplan.

2002

In June 2002, we sponsored a Pavilion garden party and two educational programs on Saturday of Reunions Weekend. First, UVa professor Charlotte Patterson hosted a panel to discuss her work on lesbian and gay parenting issues, and to help same-sex couples navigate the challenges of raising a child. Then, recent grad Kyle Ranson-Walsh offered a fascinating review of LGBT life on Grounds over the past century.

In September 2002, at the 4th Annual Fall Weekend, the Serpentine Society presented former Student Health Director, Dr. Richard Keeling, with the 2002 Bernard D. Mayes Award for his ongoing work to promote the health of LGBT people throughout the country.

In October 2002, the Board of Managers of the Alumni Association amended its by-laws to enable lesbian and gay alumni with domestic partners to enjoy the same membership benefits as alumni who are married.