These stories tell me who I am

by Cory Schutter

Cory Schutter is a Class of 2019 graduate from Midlothian, Virginia. He double majored in Rhetoric and Communication Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). He was a Bonner Scholar, a Center for Civic Engagement Ambassador, and a Student Coordinator at UR Downtown. He began his involvement with the Race & Racism Project in the summer of 2017, as an A&S Summer Fellow, then joined the team again via Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017. The post below is the written text of Cory’s speech at the 2018-2019 Lavender Graduation, sponsored by the Office of Alumni and Career Services, LGBTQ Spiders Alumni Group, and the Office of Common Ground. The event took place on April 11, 2019. 

2019 Lavender Graduation, with Cory Schutter in the center.

On a crisp October day 42 years ago, Anita Bryant came to the Robins Center to perform a “concert of sacred music.” The program was sponsored by the Richmond Area Baptist Associations, and did not claim a connection to any campus ministries. In protest, Richmond Citizens for Gay and Lesbian Rights organized a corresponding rally at Monroe Park, to educate and support L and G Richmonders. And a UR alum challenged her, wearing a “gay and proud” tshirt.

When I think about what it’s like to be a queer student at the University of Richmond, I often think of the cluster of days, months, and years that surround me. I’m not sure I would have known this story about Anita Bryant arriving on campus had it not been for the concerted efforts over the past decade to create an archive of LGBT+ history at University of Richmond.

I would not have known how in 1968, the Board of Trustees censored a survey about sexual behavior. I would not have known that Richmond College Dean Austin Grigg questioned, “why not [have] laws against certain types of homosexuality?” in a 1969 seminar. I would not have made the connection that there is a departmental award that remains named for Dr. Grigg.

Without an archive, I would not know about the women’s lib group that started in 1972, the Organization for Women’s Liberation, or OWL. Or how a year later, a Richmond College sophomore would suggest strict visitation hours aided in a “rampaging spread of homosexuality.” In the early 1970s, two Richmond College students were expelled or asked to leave for being caught in a sexual act together. I would assume these men are still alive. I wonder what happened to them, I wonder if the University ever reversed their expulsion.

In 1980, WILL* was founded on campus. 1988 was the year that free condoms appeared, along with the first gay and lesbian support group. The years that followed included activism, exposes, op-eds, all powerfully turning this campus toward issues of LGBTQ rights.

In the 1990s, the first explicitly pro-gay op-ed appeared in the Collegian, followed by a series on “Homosexuals at UR.” On November 17, 1990, Spanish professor Sixto Plaza died of AIDS, or “after a long illness” in the words of the 1991 University of Richmond Magazine. I wonder why Dr. Plaza’s name is not found on the University website. The nineties brought programming from the Lambda Coalition, LGB awareness groups, a diversity commission, unchallenged trans jokes in The Collegian, hate incidents, SafeZone, updates to the nondiscrimination policy, and the AIDS quilt coming to campus.

The 2000s brought a flurry of activity and progress on this campus, changes that were only made possible by the tireless efforts of faculty, staff, and students, many of you here today. Students were arrested in the city at Don’t Ask Don’t Tell sit-ins, a gay prom was hosted on the James River with 140 attendees, students proposed a diversity center in the Commons, QSummit was hosted on campus expressing hopes for an ombudsperson and all gender bathrooms, Common Ground was formed, and the Allies Institute [now enVision] was launched.

These are just a handful of the moments that stood out to me when I read about University history. I know that I am omitting many incredibly important events that occurred on this campus. And I want you to share them with me and with everyone here. A timeline of this history, created by Dana Mclachlin, class of 2014, is hosted on the Common Ground webpage, and I hope for a continued exposure of this history. Additional efforts such as the Race & Racism Project, headed by Dr. Nicole Maurantonio and project archivist Irina Rogova, continue to pull the intersections of campus experience into an accessible archive.

These brief anecdotes and stories tell me who I am. Without the quiet challenges and organizing for change, without the trailblazers and their support networks, without the people in this room, without an archive, I don’t think I could truly understand my own story, my place on this campus, or what it means to be here. I am proud to call myself a Spider, and proud of the efforts of this community to build a University that is inclusive, equitable, and collaborative. We have traveled a long way, and must not forget the dreams still hidden in the archive. The stories in this room must be collected and preserved so that we can continue to ensure a path forward. Your history changes the future.

On a fairly warm September day seven months ago, Ryan T. Anderson came to the Moot Court room in the School of Law. The program was sponsored by the Federalist Society, and did not claim institutional sponsorship. In protest, students from University of Richmond law and undergrad, faculty, staff, allies, and local drag queen Michelle Livigne rose to affirm the humanity of our transgender family.

We cannot forget this. It would be a mistake to think that we are out of the archive, or that the past is not replicating itself in our future.

I am grateful to have received the opportunity to grow and understand my self and my story while at the University of Richmond, in ways that are painful and beautiful and so much different than I expected. As I prepare to graduate, I think of the personal gay archive that has liberated me during my time here, one that constantly grows in the shape of journals, essays, to-do lists, and Starbucks receipts. The University of Richmond has been a wonderful place to begin a queer life, but without an archive to ground my story, I would be a person without history.

2 thoughts on “These stories tell me who I am

  • May 29, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Thanks for this. Beth Marschak ( WC’73)was the founder of OWL and has continued her LGBTQ activism over the years, I was a member of OWL as well WC (‘74)

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