W&M Mattachine Research Project Documents Queer History: Alcohol, Student Life, and Employment Benefits in Virginia

Student researchers in the William & Mary Mattachine Research Project presented their findings this week on Virginia LGBT history.

Speaking on different topics of queer Virginia history, the students discussed issues related to student life, the repeal of discriminatory liquor control laws, cases on child custody, employee benefits for same-sex partners, and religion.

In Virginia, until 25 years ago, alcohol sales to homosexuals was illegal; until 13 years ago, sodomy was criminalized; until less than 2 years ago, Virginia denied marriage rights to same-sex couples.

One undergraduate researcher focused on the overturn of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) laws, which prohibited liquor sales to homosexuals. ABC used these laws to close LGBT bars, restaurants, and clubs, such as the Green Lantern in Alexandria, and Renee’s in 1969, due to “men wearing makeup, embracing, and kissing in the café.” Documents uncovered in the Virginia Commonwealth University Archives show that William & Mary’s Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association (GALA) was integral in the effort to overturn the discriminatory laws, after a Ramada Inn rejected a contract to host a GALA reception for fear of running afoul of the ABC laws.

Student researchers also documented a series of cases against Virginia Commonwealth University, when the VCU Board of Visitors ruled in 1974 denied recognition to the Gay Alliance of Students, because the organization was “socially and psychologically harmful to individuals then and later in life.” A US Court of Appeals ultimately ruled that withholding recognition from GAS violated the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment.

Another student researcher uncovered documents in Earl Gregg Swem Library’s Special Collections that showed former College of William & Mary President Timothy Sullivan blocked the Faculty Assembly’s call for extending employee benefits to partners of gay and lesbian faculty members in the early 1990s.

The William & Mary Mattachine Research Project is supported by the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC and other institutions and individuals, and is led by Dr. Leisa D. Meyer, Professor of History and American Studies, and Jan Huebenthal, William & Mary Mattachine Research Project Fellow.