Partial Transcript: John Gray, thank you so much for doing this we greatly appreciate it. I guess my first question for you starting off is who was important to you growing up and also where are you from, originally?
Segment Synopsis: Talks about the composition of his family growing up.
Keywords: Blended families; Born; Brothers; Dads; Genetics; Hampton Roads; Mothers; Parents; Siblings; Stepdads; Stepsisters; Virginia Beach
Partial Transcript: WRIGHT: Now, I wanted to ask you how do you identify yourself, and did you find... how early on did you
define who you were personally? WILLIAMS: As gay?
Segment Synopsis: Discusses the self-discovery of his sexuality, the shock and fear of having it nearly revealed to his family, and his reasons for remaining closeted prior to college.
Keywords: childhood; closeted; fear; religion; sexual discovery
Partial Transcript: Do you, as far as the curriculum, what you learned in high school, do you think that maybe you'd have felt a little more comfortable...
Segment Synopsis: Describes the lack of LGBTQ history in his high school curriculum and describes an effeminite openly gay student who was bullied at his high school.
Keywords: AIDS; bullying; education
Partial Transcript: Okay, so this is very interesting, because you're from the Virginia Beach area. How did you end up at Tech...
Segment Synopsis: Describes how he first learned about LGBTQ issues and history while attending Tidewater Community College.
Keywords: library research; sexual experimentation; transfer students
Partial Transcript: So was Tech one of the many schools that you researched and you found that it was the best?
Segment Synopsis: Explanation of reasons for wanting to attend Virginia Tech. Description of coming out experiences with family.
Keywords: activism; first generation college students; LGBT family members; police arrest
40:05 - Degree path at Virginia Tech / Getting involved with LGBTA as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech
Partial Transcript: No that was perfect. That was perfect. So you came out to your family, you're at Tech now, and then you're getting involved in...Was it called Hokie Pride at the time?
Segment Synopsis: Talks about his choice of major while at Virginia Tech and making first contact with the LGBTA.
Keywords: college majors; Gobblerfest; landscape architecture; LGBTQ student groups; Student Work Fair; urban planning
49:20 - Activism with LGBTA and Soul Force / Encounter with police at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD
Partial Transcript: It was really awesome to be in that kind of a space. So then
I...I'm the type of person to get involved really quickly. I went to every meeting.
Segment Synopsis: Describes joint activism conducted by LGBTA and Soul Force across the region, including an altercation with police at the United States Naval Academy.
Keywords: activism; Corps of Cadets; Don't Ask Don't Tell; police; protests; Soul Force
Partial Transcript: So were there any activities on campus or any moments of protest on campus? I mean what was your experience here?
Segment Synopsis: Digression about recent initiatives led by the College Republicans related to immigration issues.
Keywords: Alien Invasion; College Republicans; illegal immigration; undocumented immigrants
Partial Transcript: WILLIAMS: Yeah, so the LGBTA office door was vandalized while I was student here. People basically ripped pages out of a Bible, like the Bible verses – they call them the Clobber Passages – there’s like eight verses in the Bible that deal with same sex sexual activity. I don’t even call it homosexuality or gay sex because those identities didn’t even exist in Biblical times. It’s purely like same sex interactions. They ripped the Bible pages out that had those verses in them and glued them to our door and highlighted or circled the passages, and they took a sharpie and wrote on the door "God hates fags" "Fags burn in hell" "You’re going to hell" and all that stuff.
Segment Synopsis: Describes a 2005 incident of vandalism directed at the LGBTA office, Virginia Tech's response, and the LGBTA's response.
Keywords: hate crimes; religion; Safewatch Program; vandalism; Zenobia Hikes
Partial Transcript: What do you think...and this is with any marginalized group...what do you think, or how did you feel, what prompted you, where did you find that strength to fight?
Segment Synopsis: Discusses his reasons for becoming an advocate for LGBTQ issues.
Keywords: activism; defiance; inspiration
Partial Transcript: So how did these events...I know you mentioned the gay marriage, was that on campus?
Segment Synopsis: Describes the Freedom to Marry Day event in Spring of 2006.
Keywords: activism; gay marriage; protests; same sex marriage
Hyperlink: See the Freedom to Marry Day photo and article here
68:42 - LGBTA name change to Hokie Pride / Transition from student involvement to faculty involvement
Partial Transcript: WRIGHT: Alright, Hokie Pride. WILLIAMS: Like the current group? WRIGHT: Your involvement...well let's clarify that...When did it become Hokie Pride?
Segment Synopsis: Talks about the name change from LGBTA to Hokie Pride and about coming back to the group after having left for graduate school.
Keywords: gay student groups; LGBT student groups
Partial Transcript: I became an officer and I became in charge of Gay Awareness Week, which is now Pride Week. And so I brought...I was in charge of an entire weeklong series of events where I brought a couple gay speakers to campus, and we actually had another protest. It was called the Gay? Fine by Me Rally where we had a generous donator...donor who donated a bunch of shirts that say “Gay.” Have you ever seen the gay fine by me?
Segment Synopsis: Describes the Gay? Fine by Me Rally and Gay Awareness Week events at Virginia Tech.
Keywords: Crysta Highfield; Gay Awareness Week; Pride Week
73:57 - Post-grad involvement with LGBTA Relay for Life / Choosing student affairs and the University of Delaware for graduate school
Partial Transcript: WRIGHT: So I want to get back to some of your
story and I know so... WILLIAMS: Oh, what time is it? Kinmond: It is 6:55. WILLIAMS: Okay. WRIGHT: Alright, so at some point you leave and was it going off to grad school or were you working?
Segment Synopsis: Talks about being involved with LGBTA events after graduation and the decision to pursue a graduate degree in student affairs at another school.
Keywords: graduate school; Relay for Life; student affairs
78:59 - Diversity at Virginia Tech / Career services as a career focus / End of relationship / Return to Virginia Tech as faculty
Partial Transcript: WRIGHT: Well, that's awesome and that gets us to here your current experience here working at Tech. And I also want to ask you about the diversity on Tech's campus as well as student population, faculty population, administrators, and things and how does that...how did that effect...or how does that effect the gay and queer population here, or do you see a correlation between the diversity or even maybe lack of and if that kind of effects the atmosphere in a way here?
Segment Synopsis: Discussion of diversity and representation of marginalized groups at Virginia Tech and decision to pursue a career in the student affairs discipline of career services. Description of long distance relationship ending, and the awkwardness involved in returning to Blacksburg after graduate school.
Keywords: Career Services; diversity; marginalized groups; minority groups; romantic relationships; Scott Burton
87:03 - Multicultural Programs and Services at Virginia Tech / Diversity issues in job search / LGBT networking reception / SafeZone
Partial Transcript: WILLIAMS: They let me do lots of diversity and social justice stuff at my office.
WRIGHT: Like what?
WILLIAMS: So I'm the
liaison to Multicultural Programs and Services from our department so I'm the face of Career Services for MPS.
Segment Synopsis: Describes his current job at Virginia Tech including a discussion of job related diversity issues, coordination of an LGBT networking reception, and his work with the SafeZone program.
Keywords: inclusiveness; LGBT Networking Reception; LGBTQ job search issues; Multicultural Programs and Services; SafeZone
Partial Transcript: WRIGHT: Well I'm not gonna say last question because I'll probably ask a follow up but why did you choose to participate in this project? WILLIAMS: Cause I think my story is worth hearing. WRIGHT: And it is.
Segment Synopsis: Explains his motivation for participating in the project.
Keywords: gay marriage; gay rights movement; millennials; same-sex marriage
Partial Transcript: WRIGHT: That's gonna be my, probably, final question for you, well second to last question for you. Can you share some of the positive experiences of being a Hokie, and even at your current position, and you're still a Hokie?
Segment Synopsis: Talks about positive feelings related to Virginia Tech.
Keywords: community; inclusiveness; school spirit
98:09 - Representation of diversity issues in the classroom at Virginia Tech and in mainstream media
Partial Transcript: WRIGHT: And then this will be my final question: was there anything that we didn't discuss that you would like to share? WILLIAMS: Hmmm [Whispers] I don't know, possibly. [Laughs] Um...hmm...yeah I don't know.
Segment Synopsis: Discussion of the lack of education about marginalized populations in general and LGBT issues in particular and how this led to an interest in social justice. Further discussion about colonialism, white privilege, and the long-term economic effects of colonialism on the economy of Africa.
Keywords: cash crops; colonialism; education; social constructs; social identities; social justice; white privilege
Partial Transcript: WRIGHT: Alright, this is my final question. WILLIAMS: This is so unrelated but...[laughs] WRIGHT: I promise you, this is my final question to you, throughout our interview, I think at least three or four occasions you mentioned the current issues for the gay community.
Segment Synopsis: Talks about issues that continue to concern the LGBTQ community after securing marriage equality by relating the LGBTQ civil rights struggle to the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Keywords: alphabet soup; bullying; gay marriage; interracial marriage; Loving v. Virginia.; marriage equality; post-racial; religion; same sex marriage; suicide
Interview with John Gray Williams
Date of Interview: October 28, 2014
Interviewer: Whitney Wright
Assistant: Damon Kinmond
Place of Interview: John Gray Williams's residence, Blacksburg, Virginia
Transcriber: David Atkins
Whitney Wright: Today is October 28, 2014, I, Whitney Wright, am conducting aninterview and Damon Kinmond is the Sound Technician for Virginia Tech's Oral History Project. Today we are interviewing Mr. John Gray Williams, and he goes by John Gray, and we are meeting at his home at 611 Progress Street in Blacksburg, Virginia and it's now 5:45. So John Gray, thank you so much for doing this we greatly appreciate it. I guess my first question for you starting off is who was important to you growing up and also where are you from, originally?
John Gray Williams: Okay, so I was born and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia.Grew up in a very middle class, suburban upbringing in the Hampton Roads area and do you need any more details than that?
WRIGHT: Yeah, like your parents, any siblings?
WILLIAMS: Okay, yeah sure. So I'm from a blended family. So my mom and dad1:00divorced when I was six and I have a younger brother, biological full-blood brother, who's six years younger than me. He was a baby when they divorced. So then my mom remarried when I was eight, so then I got two older stepsisters.
WRIGHT: Did you live with your mother or your father?
WILLIAMS: My mother.
WRIGHT: So you lived with your mother.
WRIGHT: And their names, if you don't mind me asking?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, sure, full names or just first names?
WILLIAMS: Maiden name for the mother? I mean I'm serious though. I don't knowhow much detail to go into. So my mom is...her name is Deborah Evelyn Griffin née Thorbeyonsin[?] My last name's Williams because that's my dad's last name.
WILLIAMS: My dad is John Lawrence Williams. So I'm not a junior because he's gota different middle name. My brother's name is Scott Daniel Williams. And then like I said my mom divorced and my brother and I went to live with her for two 2:00years and then she got remarried to my stepdad Hugh Griffin and then I got two older stepsisters, Jessica Griffin and Sheila Griffin. And then my dad got not officially remarried but he has a girlfriend of 20 years, a partner I guess, they've risen beyond the girlfriend level but they're not married. And he has a daughter through her so I have a half-sister named Amber Williams. So, lots of blending of the families. And what else?
WRIGHT: Who was important to you in that structure, like were you close to orcloser to any sibling, or it was a very close knit family?
WILLIAMS: No, pretty dysfunctional family.
WRIGHT: In what way?
WILLIAMS: [Laughs] Oh in my brother and I were always closer to my mom and thesisters were always closer to their dad. We tried really hard to sort of work against that a lot of times, you know. My stepdad was a good person, my mom was 3:00a good person, but I think just being raised during those formative years with the other parent, you know, my stepdad joined my life when I was eight so I was always closer to my mom. My little brother kind of was in the middle because he was only two when they got married, so he sometimes even referred to my stepdad as dad. But I'm a momma's boy, to get to the answer that you're looking for, definitely closest with my mom and my little brother because we had a lot in common. I do really do think that genetics plays a huge role to some extent just in the sense...
WRIGHT: Genetics in which way?
WILLIAMS: In the sense that my brother and I--our brains–we think sosimilarly, we approach life so similarly, and I see a lot of my dad in him. I see a lot of both my mom and my dad in both of us. And so even though my stepsisters and I and him, for most of our lives lived in the same environment, 4:00we're so different and I think that's partially because of genetics.
WRIGHT: In what way though, when you say different what are their personalitiesdifferent? Describe yourself, your personality compared to your siblings to get a kind of an idea.
WILLIAMS: So my brother and I are really analytical. We're really driven. We'rehard working. We have good work ethics. We are very... he's super left-brained, I'm like left- and right-brained, and I feel like my sisters are really right-brained. They also have a lot more, I don't know they have a lot more dysfunction in their lives. My older sister's been divorced, married and divorced twice by the time she was thirty-five. The other one still lives at home and doesn't have a job and she's thirty-two. They're just, their lives are not, they're not good at managing their lives. 5:00
WRIGHT: Well that's very interesting that the family dynamics. Now, I wanted toask you how do you identify yourself, and did you find... how early on did you define who you were personally?
WILLIAMS: As gay?
WILLIAMS: Okay. Don't worry, I know that's an awkward question to ask someone,but it's not awkward to ask me that. So, yeah and I'm sorry, I can ramble on in any direction you want me to go. So, in my life going back to a very early age, I remember being in locker rooms as a little kid, like at the rec center, and being fascinated by people who would shower naked at the rec center. You know you go to the pool and gym then you come and shower. I always showered in my bathing suit or in underwear. And then people would get naked and I just was so fascinated at seeing other naked people because in my mind it was just like naked, cool nudity. Not even thinking like – "oh man," but then I got a little 6:00older and some of my friends were like "wouldn't it be cool if there was a peep hole like through the wall into the girls locker room so we could actually see what we want to see." And I just remember being like "huh, that thought never even occurred to me I get all the nudity I want right here." It sounds creepy now because I'm an adult but this was in the brain of a seven or eight year old kid. I was just fascinated looking at those naked men when I was a little kid.
WRIGHT: So you kind of had a sense at a very young age that...
WILLIAMS: The word gay, the identity of "oh I'm, that means I'm gay and I'mdifferent" was no way, not a part of it. For me at the time it was just like the novelty of people who were so comfortable showing their penises in public, you know what I mean. And then when I was in eighth grade, I discovered internet porn and I mean when you're in eighth grade, I was like what, fourteen? I just typed in "free sex" or whatever you know to type in to get porn, and it was men 7:00and women and I was like "whoa this is great." Then I discovered bisexual porn that had like two men and a woman and I was like "wow that's even better, I was like look at these guys are touching each other and they don't even care, he didn't even care that..." I don't know how graphic I can get but "he didn't even care that his penis just touched his penis. They didn't even care. That's so cool."
And then I slowly started to realize that I wasn't paying attention to the womenat all. And then I was like, "what would happen if I just saw two men? That's gay, is that gay?" Make sure late at night, no parents are awake, and typed 'gay porn' and the rest was history, so to speak. And then of course my parents found the history files that I didn't delete and they confronted me. That was when I was in tenth grade. So from eighth to tenth grade I'd kind of been figuring it 8:00out, kind of coming to terms with the fact that I was gay, but I had never really accepted it. It was just sort of like I'm just figuring it all out. And then my mom confronted me because she found the internet history files and I lied. I was like, "Oh, I was just curious. I was just exploring a bunch of stuff. I was just comparing sizes." That's what I said to her – "comparing sizes." Cause as you know, you need to watch two men having sex with each other in order to compare penis size. [Laughs] That's the only way to do it. And so she bought it because I think she wanted the conversation to just be over.
Well, she was cooking dinner at that time and she had run out of milk, sheneeded milk for the recipe for whatever she was cooking, and I was in the tenth grade and I had just gotten my driver's license. So you know if either of y'all drove in high school, when you finally get your license the parents love it 9:00'cause they're like sending you to do every errand on earth and you love it 'cause it's like "Yes an excuse to drive!" So she sent me to the grocery store to get milk. The grocery store was like a mile away. I could've probably walked but you know I drove to get the milk. And I lost it in the parking lot of the grocery store.
WRIGHT: What do you mean lost it?
WILLIAMS: Broke down crying, inconsolable, couldn't breathe, hyperventilating,type of crying. Because what I had known, again going back to being a little kid kind of figuring that out in the locker room all the way up until I discovered gay porn and had been secretly watching that for two years, I had never been confronted with the reality of what that meant socially. You know, it was just like my dirty little secret and now it wasn't my dirty little secret anymore. So I had to wrestle with the fact that now they knew this thing I was, it was beyond like ashamed of, it was like – No, no one can know about this and yet someone does know. The cognitive dissonance of this thing I decided no one would 10:00ever know and now someone knows.
And then of course I was raised in the Christian church, I was raised Methodist,so wrestling with...I didn't go to a bible thumping, like super conservative, super fundamentalist church. Where like the preacher wasn't up there saying, "Hellfire and brimstone gay sinners burn in hell," none of that, but it was still like unspoken. I mean, I knew what the bible said, stone, if a man lies with a man, stone him to death. You know, and so I was like "but I didn't choose this, God made me this way, and why did God make me this way if he didn't want me to be gay?" And why, I was just like, it was all happening at the same time. The religious issues, the family issues, the social stigma, the I didn't choose it, and I just cried in that car in that parking lot for like an hour. And remember I was supposed to be getting milk. 11:00
So I finally, and this was before cell phones, so I finally drive back home withthe milk. The whole family has eaten dinner. My mom finished the recipe with half and half that she had in the fridge. She just used like coffee creamer. She was like, "I didn't know where the hell you were and I needed to finish cooking." She could tell, I tried my best to clean my face up but she could tell I was upset. And so her and I walked into the kitchen and she came and she gave me a hug and she said, "no matter what I'll always love you." And I said, and I tried to play it cool like "Okay, whatever, I don't know why you said that. No need to say that. I'm..." That was in tenth grade.
WRIGHT: Why did you feel that like you just weren't, still at that point youweren't ready to kind of...?
WILLIAMS: Because like, why like, if she caught me and told me she loved me nomatter what why didn't I just like come out?
WILLIAMS: Because...I just wasn't ready. It's so hard to explain, I mean, I feel12:00like I should try to find a way to put it into words, but it was sort of like that–here's how I would explain it–that moment for me was the first time that I even accepted the possibility of what that meant--that I was gay. So it wasn't like from eighth grade to tenth grade I was coming to terms with it, it was like my beginning to come to terms with it started in the tenth grade with that moment. Because up until then it was like, I'm not gay, I just like watching, no I'm not gay. So from tenth grade...I mean I pretty much became asexual. Because I, and people sort of asked me because I never dated girls, I never tried to fake it or hide it or pretend to like girls.
WRIGHT: So what was your experience like in middle school, high school, yourinteractions with your classmates and your teachers, and dealing with your sexuality, or just trying to come into your own and understand it yourself? 13:00
WILLIAMS: Yeah, so I remember once a girl asked me out and...
WRIGHT: When was this?
WILLIAMS: This was in eleventh grade and, 'cause her friends told me she had acrush on me and I was like "oooo, that's fun," everyone loves being wanted, right. But I was also a late bloomer, and I wasn't socially awkward but I was just like socially neutral. You know what I mean? I wasn't a popular kid but I got along with everyone. Like if I were to show you my high school yearbook I had, I mean the pages are filled with signatures, because everyone knew because I was like the class clown, the jolly guy, the guy that made people laugh, the guy that was nice to everyone. But like, I didn't get invited to parties. I didn't get asked out on dates. You know, everyone liked me but I wasn't anyone's real friend.
And so I kind of coasted by with that, with that identity of like class clown,everyone's friend, but I was not a sexual being in high school. So I think 14:00people just–and I was chubby, I mean I'm still chubby, I say it like it changed [Laughs], and so the expectation wasn't even there that I would have a girlfriend. I think it helped insulate me, no pun intended. Because it was kind of like, well he doesn't have a girlfriend because he's overweight. He has low self esteem or people don't find him attractive or whatever. And so that kind of insulated me. I didn't get too many questions about why I didn't have a girlfriend, 'cause I think that's why people thought. Some people did you know, "When are you gonna start dating?" But yeah...
WRIGHT: Do you, as far as the curriculum, what you learned in high school, doyou think that maybe you'd have felt a little more comfortable with maybe if you had learned or knew about gay history or gay experiences, maybe if you'd have learned about that within your curriculum growing up from middle school to high school?
WILLIAMS: Hmmm, yeah that's, well that's really speculative, but I can remember15:00from–what's it called? Family life? Health education, family life, where you learn about the birds and the bees. I just always remember it was boys and girls, boys are separated from girls because boys like girls and girls like boys and you have to separate them when we're talking about sex. And I was never as immature as other boys, in my opinion, and I wonder now looking back is that because I was gay and didn't know it. I'm going back to like fifth or sixth grade now, but I just never remember like, "girls have cooties" and you know I just–I feel like I'm not answering your question.
WRIGHT: No, you are. That's actually very helpful. That's another, we learntypically in health, we learn about boys and girls, we don't really learn about same sex or anything of that nature.
WRIGHT: Now, and that's a valid point I'm glad you brought that up, now I was ahistory teacher and so I'm wondering if maybe you would've learned about...I guess a better question is–who was the first person that you found out or knew that was gay? Do you remember? Like the first person was it someone in your neighborhood, or someone you learned about in history, or can you remember that?
WILLIAMS: Wow...that's a tough one. I'm not necessarily saying he's the firstbut he's coming to mind. There was an out gay kid at my high school and his name happened to be Barry, which was very unfortunate because everyone called him "Barry the fairy." Including me, but I mean I never made fun of him to his face but I just remember like he was just known, everyone was like "that's Barry the fairy." So I contributed to that oppression, so to speak, by endorsing that name and using it. But I mean I was never someone to actively make fun of someone to 17:00their face.
WRIGHT: Was it a situation where you weren't quite, because who hadn't come into your own yet, so you couldn't necessarily identify with him, is that kind of, maybe had something to do with?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, well this is where gender complicates things because, or genderpresentation and gender expression, because he was very effeminate. You know, he wore eye liner... "Oh my god girl did you see..." I mean he was like one of the girls. You know what I mean? And I wasn't like that so I think it had more to do with gender presentation and expression than sexual orientation. Although, he was also gay.
WRIGHT: Now this sort of ties back to where I was originally going and this maybe very difficult for you to answer this because it's kind of difficult to reflect back or put yourself back in that situation. But do you think, potentially if you were learning about...of course this has something to do with the position of outing...but there are some historical figures that we know were part of the community and do you feel like if that was maybe discussed, and not 18:00just as this person's gay but it's just a part of the curriculum, just like we learned about Native Americans or Asians or Hispanics or blacks or women, if you were to learn about this gay man or woman do you feel like that would've made any difference in your educational experience, looking back?
WILLIAMS: I think definitely. I mean if...I'm thinking about Harvey Milk youknow...didn't know who that was until I got to college and that was later in college. It would be awesome to learn about Harvey Milk alongside other Civil Rights leaders. Learned about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, I'm trying...I could name a lot more but I'm trying to think about the ones I learned about in high school. Yeah, that would be cool to see some gay civil rights leaders. To get back to your other question, I'm thinking really I 19:00think my first exposure to gay things in general, sadly enough, because I grew up in the nineties, was AIDS related. I think my first sort of exposure to gay people was through AIDS awareness and AIDS propaganda...
WRIGHT: Through the media or?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, because I'm 30 so I was born in 1984, which was right when theAIDS crisis was starting and it kind of like... it came to a real head, it peaked in the early nineties, which was right when I was coming of age. So I just remember hearing a lot in the media about gay people and AIDS.
WRIGHT: Do you remember, like I can think of "My So-called Life," I'm around thesame age as you, so was there anything that stands out to you during that time period that kind of was dealing with, and I know you said AIDS, but just any the community or AIDS was there anything that you remember, specifically?
WILLIAMS: Specifically with regards to AIDS?20:00
WILLIAMS: Um...no not really, but when you said "My So-called Life" it triggeredsomething else in me. The Real World, Danny, that was one of my earliest crushes, Danny from the Real World, New Orleans. I would love to know what year that was, probably like 2000, 2001.[RW-New Orleans premiered in June 2000] Also...so these are...so that was before I was out, that was in an interim period. So I came out of the closet when I was 21. So there was a five year gap. So I was 16 when my mom confronted me in the kitchen and I was 21 before I actually uttered the words out loud "I'm gay."
WRIGHT: Okay, so this is very interesting, because you're from the VirginiaBeach area. How did you end up at Tech and then what was the experience here, and then I will kind of come to when you decided to come out, so I want to 21:00figure out what led to that part?
WILLIAMS: So it's because my journey is not what you might be thinking. I was acommunity college transfer, so I didn't come here when I was 18. I came out because I was coming to Virginia Tech. Well that's not true, that's not why, but that was why it happened when it did.
WRIGHT: So can we start from community college to...
WILLIAMS: Yes. So I was at community college and it was clearly, I was out ofthe ruts of high school and I remember checking out books from the local community college on homosexuality
WILLIAMS: Tidewater–I remember checking out books out of the library onhomosexuality and researching it on computers there 'cause this again was 2002, some people had laptops, but it wasn't like everyone everywhere had a laptop at that time. So I didn't have a laptop so it was the family computer or a computer at TCC. So I remember doing a lot of gay research and stuff there and just kind of learning a lot more and getting more comfortable with it until it finally got 22:00to the point where I knew I was gonna eventually come out. Like, I made up my mind that I couldn't live this secret life. I didn't want to live a dual life. I made up my mind that I wasn't going to be totally closeted, but I also wasn't going to do this–I'm gonna live my gay life in secret and have boyfriends and date people but no one in my real life's gonna know.
WRIGHT: So during this time period were you living, did you have that life?Where you had your friends, your gay friends in your life?
Wright So right now you're just exploring?
WILLIAMS: And I don't know if it's like a, in my mind I need to think morecritically about really what that was all about, but I kind of, almost like it was a virtuous kind of thing. Where it was like–I'm not going to indulge. I'm not gonna let myself, sort of like, have this gay life until I'm brave enough to come out and own it and live it. I did experiment a little bit, I was a nineteen 23:00year old and horny, right. So I did have a little fling here or there on the side, but I didn't try to date anyone. There was no boyfriend. There was none of that.
WRIGHT: So, if you don't mind me asking, so you did have...there were sexual interactions?
WILLIAMS: Yes. There were sexual experiences that were of the hookup, the onenight stand type of variety. And they were all done through the internet, which was probably dangerous looking back. Because it wasn't like I...'cause I came to Tech – I'm not gonna fast-forward I just – here I became part of the gay community so I got invited to gay parties and I knew gay people which led me to other gay people, which led me to...I had plenty of one night stands here but they were done more organically through people who I already knew or through parties. But back then it was like gay hookup websites. So...shameful past.
WRIGHT: No, no, not at all, not at all actually.
WILLIAMS: Now I'm all about my sexual freedom. I don't want to ever...just dowhat you gotta do.
WRIGHT: At some point...well how old were you, because community college, you24:00came to Tech at twenty one, so 19?
WILLIAMS: Three years there.
WRIGHT: Three years, okay.
WILLIAMS: And I did three years there because my mentor there convinced me thatI should get my associate's degree before I transferred, because originally I was just going to transfer with whatever credits I had. And she was like, "A: you're going to have a tougher time getting in because with the matriculation agreement if you have an associate's degree and above a 3.5 you have a guaranteed admission to any state school. So if you don't do that then they're going to be evaluating you a lot more, with a lot more scrutiny. And, God forbid something happens at Tech and you don't graduate at least you have your associates to fall back on." So she convinced me to stay and get it which led me to being there for a third year.
So now we're back to me coming out, so I'd had a few flings here and there, I'ddone a lot of research, I read a lot of books, and I decided as I was researching schools to apply to I was looking at the LGBT student organization 25:00here on campus, which is now called Hokie Pride, back then it was the LGBTA, and like they had all these pictures of like these gay parties that they had or these big gay events, and all these links to resources. They're like "We have a weekly fun meeting and we also have a weekly support group meeting for people who are just coming out." I'm like that's perfect. That's just what I need. So I was starting to really fantasize, not in a sexual way but like in a... I was so excited to be coming some place that had gay people who were out that I could get involved with in that community.
WRIGHT: So was Tech one of the many schools that you researched and you foundthat it was the best?
WILLIAMS: No. It was...Tech predated any of that research. I wanted to come toVirginia Tech. And then, thankfully, I found this gay community there. It was like Tech was the one driving the ship. That decision was driving the ship and 26:00then the gay was like the icing.
WRIGHT: So what was it about Tech that wanted you, like that was your ideal as akid school, or...?
WILLIAMS: It was. I am a first generation college student. My dad didn't evengraduate high school. My mom graduated high school but no college. But growing up my granddad loved watching college football and he rooted for Virginia Tech, and I mean I was a little kid. He didn't go to Virginia Tech. He just rooted for Virginia Tech. So I had positive memories associated with Virginia Tech as a little kid. And he passed away when I was in sixth grade so that kind of went away but I'd already been, it was in my mind. And then I figured out...I figured out that I wanted to be an architect when I was in high school. Well there's only two public schools in Virginia that offer architecture – Virginia Tech and UVA, and again, somewhere back in my mind I thought Virginia Tech was the better school because that's who granddad rooted for. So I just kind of never 27:00really considered UVA. And again I wasn't looking at George Mason or JMU or ODU because they didn't have architecture. So that's what kind of led me on this track to Virginia Tech,.
WRIGHT: And it so happened that they had this great community so that's awesome?
WRIGHT: Okay. So what were some of your experiences once you made it here? Youmade your decision, you got in, you're at Tech, what was life like here? Were you on campus? Were you off campus? You're an older student so what was your...?
WILLIAMS: Yeah. I was off. Can I pause just one second on that and back up justone sec?
WILLIAMS: It was my decision to come to Tech that drove my coming out because Iwas like I'm not going to go away and do the double life thing.
WRIGHT: Okay, so you came out before, literally right before you got to Tech?
WILLIAMS: Yes, yes. Because I didn't want to come here be involved with allthese groups and all these fun things and then have to go home and be closeted again. Another important thing, probably relevant, is that I have, well I have 28:00three other gay family members, but at the time I only knew about two. My mom has a gay sister who's a lesbian and she had, I have a cousin, her niece that's lesbian. And both of them came out before me. So in the deep recesses of my mind I already knew my mom would be okay with it. Which makes it that much more weird and complicated that it was so hard to come out because I saw my mother accept and love other gay family members, but I still couldn't come out.
WRIGHT: So when you say that they came out before you, this was years prior toyou coming out? So you saw your mother and your family go through that and you saw that it was positive?
WRIGHT: Yes, okay.
WILLIAMS: It wasn't without speed bumps, for sure. It wasn't as positive foreveryone. Like there were some family members who still don't associate with my aunt Linda. [Whispers "Ah stupidity"] I remember when my mom's brother and his 29:00wife, so my aunt through marriage, told my mom, shunned my mom, admonished her because she went to visit Linda and her new partner, Carolyn, because she said that by visiting in their home we were condoning that lifestyle. And these are things that a fifteen year old gay closeted kid is hearing, you know "condoning their lifestyle" and but then I saw mom say "I don't care if I'm condoning, I don't care what I'm condoning. I'm not going to not see my sister." So the reactions I got from my mom were always sort of like coming from a place of neutrality towards sexual orientation and emphasis on family. Like, I don't care if she's gay or straight. She's my sister and I'm going to visit her. So it was never super-affirming like, "Linda's who she is and she's going to love who she loves and screw you for thinking it less than." So I never saw that like affirming side of my mom. Where she was really affirming our gay family members 30:00but it was always more like a, "I'm not gonna let that get in the way." So deep down I knew my mom would be okay with it but at the same time it wasn't something to be celebrated either.
So I kept having these false starts. Once I got accepted or was planning to goto Tech I was like 'I gonna tell her, but I gotta find the right time. So I'm going to tell her in the morning when she's fresh but it's gotta be after the morning coffee, right?' [Wright coughing] You can get your cough out. And then I'd like 'oh no, you know my brother was running late for school and now she's stressed out 'cause he woke up late and it's like I'm not telling her now.' And then I'd say 'okay I'm gonna tell her after dinner and oh no she's, her favorite TV show comes on and she, this won't work. Okay, I'll tell her tomorrow before dinner, oh no she's stressed out because dinner's taking too long to cook.' Like I had...'I'm gonna tell her in the car, oh no like there's a lot of traffic she's stressed out.' I had all these I'm gonna tell her and then not because of something. So she took me out to a restaurant to celebrate me getting into 31:00Virginia Tech, 'cause like I said I have three siblings, the two older stepsisters and the younger brother, and the two older stepsisters were like, she basically...do you, do either one of you...I'm sorry you aren't supposed to be a part of the interview, do you have a lot of siblings?
WRIGHT: I have one older brother.
WILLIAMS: One older.
Damon Kinmond (Sound Technician): And I have one older brother.
WILLIAMS: Okay, so you might experience it a little bit but when you're one offour one-on-one time with a parent is pretty rare. So my mom was like, "It's just you and me. We're going out to lunch to celebrate you getting into Virginia Tech." We're there and she's like, "I'm so proud of you." She's like, "I feel like you're the only child I did right by." Because Sheila at that time was getting divorced with a guy that she'd met on the internet when she was eighteen and it was like she was starting her life over because she had nothing. She married someone who was still living with his parents. I mean at 26 he still lived with his parents. And so she married a loser then got divorced and then Jessica was like dropped out of college, moved back home, didn't have a job, 32:00struggled with alcoholism. And then my little brother has Asperger's, so it was a real struggle for him in high school. My mom was worried that he wasn't even gonna graduate high school. 'Cause he's really smart, and I know I said we're close now as adults, but as growing up he was difficult.
So anyway, I was like the straight A kid, the one getting Honor Roll, the onewho's doing all the right things, and so she sort of like showered me with these compliments. You know like, "You're the only child I feel like I did right by," "You're the only child who is like stress free my whole life and now you're going to Virginia Tech, I'm so proud. You're just the only kid who turned out normal." And I was like [high pitched noise] "eeeeee...nooooo why did you have to say that? Sorry, why did you have to say that?" So I let her know that I wasn't as normal as she thought that I was and so I referenced the porn that she found five years earlier and I said, "Remember when you found those history 33:00files five years ago?" And she didn't miss a beat. Guess what she said. She said, "What? But I thought you were just comparing sizes!" Five years later [snaps] like instant recall. I was like "You believed that. You forced yourself to believe that because you wanted to believe it because that's the most dumb excuse." So she left. She went to the bathroom, and like I said, we were in a restaurant and you know what happens when someone goes to the restroom, the food always comes immediately and then you can't eat it 'cause you're waiting for them and you don't want to be rude. Well, I'm waiting and waiting and waiting, and the food's getting cold, and I'm like "come on," and she finally comes back after like fifteen minutes in the bathroom. Her mascara's like all running down her face, her hair's disheveled, it's clear she's been bawling her eyes out in the bathroom. And she sat down and she was like, "John you're my son and there's nothing you could ever do to make me love you any less." And then we ate. And 34:00then I came to Virginia Tech. And I've never been in the closet since.
WRIGHT: Did you share that...that's a beautiful story...did you have that sameexperience with your father? Or your siblings?
WILLIAMS: Whoa...my...so I didn't tell my stepdad because I told my mom shecould tell him. Like I said, I'm a momma's boy, so, and as you collect more oral histories I'm sure you'll see this, some people have different approaches. Some people tell their best friend first and then they tell a sibling, or they tell other gay people, or they live like the secret gay life for a while and build their confidence and they go to a support group. I made this decision to come out to my mom without telling another soul. She was the first person in my life that I actually said that to. 'Cause I'm like...I was all about starting from the top. If she knew and still loved me and was okay with it, then everything else was gonna be fine. I could care less what my other siblings thought because they at least weren't gonna mistreat me 'cause mom wouldn't stand for it. I 35:00didn't care what my dad said. You know for me it was like let's start with the hardest conversation and everything else is gonna be like butter. So she told my stepdad and my stepsisters. She wouldn't let me tell my brother because he wasn't mature enough to handle it. So that was a battle that lasted for about a year, where she wouldn't let me tell him because he wasn't mature enough, he wasn't mature enough, and that whole year I was here at Tech getting involved. I became an officer in the LGBT organization. I got arrested by going to an LGBT protest. I was involved in a Freedom to Marry Day protest on the Drillfield. My picture was on the front page of the newspaper for participating in a gay wedding.
WRIGHT: Let's get into all that too.
WILLIAMS: Oh okay and I'll go into more details but the whole point is that allthat's going on. I started dating somebody. My life is super gay and then I go home and it's right back in the closet because even though mom, stepdad, and both stepsisters know, baby brother doesn't know so I can't talk about it. So 36:00finally she's just like, "you just don't understand him like I do, he's not mature enough to handle it, he's too little," plus the Asperger's. And I'm like you know what, I finally sat her down and said, "I realize he's your son and you do know him and you understand him very well but I'm his brother. It's not like he's your son and I'm your son and there's no relationship between us. I get him too. I understand his quirks. I know what he can and can't handle. He's fifteen years old. He probably has gay friends at school. He can handle it." She's like, "No, he's not ready."
Well I disregarded her commands and I told him. And he started laughing andsaid, "Is this a test? Are you testing me to see if I'll still accept you?" And I was like "Uh...no." And he didn't believe me at first and so I finally told him. I also told my dad too. Like I said my parents were divorced, so I told my dad on New Year's Eve in 2005. Because in 2005 I came out to my mom in March of 37:00'05 right after I got my acceptance letter to Tech. And so my whole first semester at Tech, my dad didn't know. I was doing all the gay things and he didn't know, because I didn't live with him and it was easier to hide it from him and he doesn't have Facebook. He still doesn't have the internet. My dad lives in like 1980.
So finally I, I set up these weird arbitrary rules for myself where I was like2005 is my year of coming out. I'm not gonna let 2005 roll into 2006 without being out to both parents. So on New Year's Eve my dad and I went out to breakfast at Hardees. We got biscuits and he actually broached the subject, inadvertently, 'cause he...whenever we were hanging out and we hadn't seen each other for a while he would ask me about all my mom's siblings. My mom had seven siblings and I think he missed them. He missed having that big family 'cause he only had one sibling and his sister lives in California. So I think he missed having that big family that came along with my mom as part of her package. Her 38:00package [Laughter]. So he would always ask about all her siblings. Well he asked about aunt Linda who at that time aunt Linda had only been out for probably about five or six years. My aunt Linda was married to a husband, a man, for thirty years and had kids by him. So he asked, "Is Linda still a carpet muncher?" And I was like, "Uh... that term's offensive dad." He was like, "Oh, what are you a spokesperson for lick sisters now?" Like dropping another slur. And I'm like, "Oh my god dad that's really offensive you shouldn't say that." He was like, "you know I'm just playing I think Linda's great I just wanted to know how she was doing." And so that got the conversation going. And I was like, "You should know Linda's not the only one in the family who's gay." [Laughter] And he was like, "What?" And I was like, "Well...I'm not straight either."
It was really hard to say that I'm gay. It was easier to say I'm not straightthan to say I'm gay, same thing with my mom. Now I don't have a problem saying 39:00it but at the time I did. So I came out to him and he asked, just like my brother, "Is this some sort of test?" I was like, "No." "A test to see if I'm a good parent or not?" I was like, "Well I guess in some respects it is a test, but it's not just a test." And he said so like, "What do you call yourself now? What do you preferred to be called?" And because my dad and I have this kind of relationship and we're jokesters I was like, "Well I prefer the term fudge-packer." Just to go along with his carpet muncher, lick sister thing earlier. I was like I prefer the term... He was like, "Oh, I see you've got jokes. Well do you know this one? How do you get four gay guys on one barstool?" Do either one of y'all know?
WILLIAMS: You have an idea?
WRIGHT: I think I have an idea.
WILLIAMS: You turn it upside down. [Laughter] And so that was how I came out tohim. It ended with us telling each other whatever gay jokes we'd heard about. Alright, so I'm sorry I went all over the place. 40:00
WRIGHT: No that was perfect. That was perfect. So you came out to your family,you're at Tech now, and then you're getting involved in...Was it called Hokie Pride at the time?
WILLIAMS: No it was LGBTA.
WRIGHT: No it was not it was LGBTA. So you're getting involved in that. Beforewe get to that though I do want to ask you, you mentioned that Tech, their Architecture program, what exactly was your major while you were here?
WILLIAMS: So I came in...so Architecture is what put Tech on the radar for me,but I changed my mind before I actually transferred. I found Landscape Architecture. So I transferred in as Landscape Architecture, and then I changed out of that my first semester here because that's not a transfer friendly major. It's a five year design program. So you have to have ten semesters of studio. And so I was thinking I have my Associate's so that's gonna shave off two years so I'll only be here for three years for this five year degree. And they're like, "Uh...actually you're still gonna be here for five years because you have 41:00to take ten semesters of studio, the difference is you're gonna have ten semesters of nine credits instead of a full course load. It's not a transfer friendly major. What I'd recommend is that you transfer in to a more transfer friendly major and then go to grad school for Landscape Architecture" So that's what I was gonna do. Excuse me, so I transferred into Urban Planning. And then the goal was Urban Planning and then grad school Landscape Architecture and then Virginia Tech screwed me over.
WRIGHT: In what way?
WILLIAMS: [Laughter] They didn't screw me over, they cancelled their Master's ofLandscape Architecture program at the Blacksburg campus. They moved it to the Northern Virginia campus. There were two different levels. If you had a Bachelor's in Landscape Architecture you could go in the fast track two year program which they still offer in Blacksburg. But if you come from a non-design field, like I was coming from Urban Planning, you had to do the three year 42:00program which included extra studio. No longer offering that in Blacksburg, you can only take that in Northern Virginia. Plus they weren't offering the first year of design studio in the Northern Virginia campus. They had a great new partnership with George Washington University where you would actually take a year of classes at George Washington that would transfer automatically back to Virginia Tech. Well, do either one of you know how much tuition is at George Washington?
WILLIAMS: It's about four times what it is at Virginia Tech. And I was like thatwas my option. My whole plan, my whole plan when I transferred into Urban Planning was, I'm transferring into this so I can go to grad school here, get my master's, and live my life. So that totally threw everything out of whack – for the better. I can go on on my career journey, or I can stop and we can talk about other things.
WRIGHT: I want to get all that. It's your story.
WRIGHT: How 'bout this – I do want to talk about your community involvement inbeing an activist and the arrest and your protest. I do want to talk about that. So I definitely want that on tape. Can you kind of share some of that information?
WILLIAMS: Sure. So I came to Tech and I hit the ground running. Am I closeenough to the mic? Okay. I remember I got here and I couldn't wait to get involved. Since I lived off campus, since I was a transfer student, I moved here like August 1. Right, as soon as my lease started in my apartment I was here in Blacksburg, which was three weeks before school started. So I would go, almost daily, into Squires and walk by the LGBT office to see if anyone was in there because they said they would have sporadic office hours during the summer. That students who were here over the summer would like staff the office and so I kept going to see and no one was in there, no one was in there, no one was in there. Finally, like the week before school started I went by there and someone was in 44:00there. And I walked in and it was Toby and he was playing Super Mario Brothers on the old, old Nintendo, and I walked in and he's like "hey, give me just one second!" I mean, in his sassy gay voice. And I was like [whispers] "oh my god it's a real live gay person." You know it was a gay person that I sought out, it wasn't like "Barry the Fairy" who I was avoiding, or gay people I'd seen on TV, it was like a gay person who was...they're gonna become my friend. So I went in and I sat down and it was really awkward because he kept playing. He literally was like 'I'm finishing this level before I interact with you.' So he's playing this Super Mario level and I'm just sitting on this couch surrounded by rainbows and gay books and pictures of gay people and more rainbows and you know, activists, feminists, queer buttons, and little signs everywhere and I was just like marveling at all of that. 45:00
WRIGHT: Alright, so Squires is our community center, our gathering place onVirginia Tech's campus, but where in Squires was the...?
WILLIAMS: Hidden away, tucked away in the back corner, the third floor, at theend of the hallway on the third floor, where the other multicultural organizations are. Some people joke that that's where Virginia Tech hid them. So the Black Student Alliance, the Asian American Student Union, the Latino American Student Association, and the LGBTA and HILEL, all their offices were in the back corner of the third floor. Let's put all of the diverse kids together, so that's where all this went down. So then I met Toby and we started talking and he's like, "Hey, you ought to come to this..." it was the precursor to Gobblerfest, what is now Gobblerfest, previously...were you here previously to Gobblerfest, either one of you?
WRIGHT: No, this is my first semester here. Can you tell us what Gobblerfest is?
WILLIAMS: It's basically a student organizations fair on steroids, where they've46:00turned it into a carnival. But all the student organizations and all the departments on campus come, they have a table set up and they showcase either their office or their work. And now they have moon bounces and Ferris wheels and all this fun stuff going on on the drill field, but it used to be inside. It used to be in Squires Commonwealth Ballroom and it was much smaller and much tamer and it was just called the Student Work Fair, it wasn't called Gobblerfest. I think it's better now, but he recommended that I come to that. He's like, "We're gonna have a whole bunch of resources there, but actually that's not why you should come 'cause all the resources we're gonna have their you can get right off that table right here in this office. But you should come so you can meet other people." Like I said he was the only one in the office that day. So I went there and...
WRIGHT: What was his position, I'm sorry, Toby?
WILLIAMS: Yes Toby. He's just an officer. I don't remember if he was the VicePresident. You can look that information up I'm sure, but he was an officer in 47:00the club at the time. So I went to the Student Work Fair which is where I met Michael Sutphin, my roommate, for the first time. We didn't become friends that day but it's where I first met him. And it happened to be the birthday of one of the other officers in the club and so somehow I charmed someone into giving me inside information and they told me that that officer was having a birthday party that night. It was like a Friday, and so they gave me the address. And I was like, "Oh my god a gay party, a gay party, my very first gay party." I spent like hours getting ready, make sure I have the perfect outfit, make sure my hair was perfect, all this stuff.
So we went to this gay party and I mean it was...earth shattering. I just can'texplain. I don't know if either one of you identify as queer but it was one of the highlights of my life. To walk into this party...and I mean I had been to 48:00parties before, I went to some parties in high school, parties at community college, it was actually my first Virginia Tech party so I guess I had never been to a real college, college party, but to walk into a space where boys were making out with boys and girls were making out with girls and like people were sitting on the couch making out, people were dancing together, and you know every gender bending thing. You know, guys wearing...there was this one dressed up as a drag queen and the issue is like it wasn't weird. It wasn't out of the ordinary. There was no like, "Oh my look at that it's two guys making out over there." It was more like "Oh my god look at those straight people. Who invited them?!" It was an all gay space. That's the value of an all gay space, you know, just like if you're in an all black space you know it's like...just imagine...I mean I'm reading you as black. I assumed that you identify that way...I don't know how you...I don't know but...
WRIGHT: Maybe for just today. [laughing] I'm joking.49:00
WILLIAMS: Just imagine if you had gone through your whole life and you had neverbeen in a room with all black people...
WRIGHT: I can imagine...
WILLIAMS: ...and then all of a sudden it's like "Oh my god...there's no whitepeople here. This is wonderful." You know [Laughter] and so that's like what it was like. It was like I found my people. It was really...
WRIGHT: I can imagine, yeah.
WILLIAMS: It was really awesome to be in that kind of a space. So then I...I'mthe type of person to get involved really quickly. I went to every meeting. I went to the Thursday night group fun meetings. I went to the Monday night support group meetings and I went to all the activities and events they had. And the organization at that time was getting involved with a group called Soul Force. Ever heard of them? You can look them up if you want. They're kind of defunct now 'cause times have changed from nine years ago. But it was a group of basically Christian identified LGBT folks who would go around to Christian organizations trying to educate them about LGBT issues. From the perspective of 50:00– "Hey I'm not some angry militant atheist Christian hatin' gay, I'm a Christian and I'm gay and let me help educate you out of the Stone Age." So they went to universities like Liberty, and the one in Virginia Beach...Regent, and we would have protests where we would march on their campus protesting.
Because you can get kicked out of those schools for being gay. Like you can'tget, not that Virginia Tech's the most gay friendly place, but you can't get kicked out for being gay here. You can get kicked out there. And then they expanded that to any institution that had some sort of anti-LGBTQ policy, which basically includes all the military academies. And Virginia Tech's lucky they didn't get targeted because of the Corp of Cadets 'cause the Corp of Cadets has to adhere to DOD standards, Department of Defense, which at the time had the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy so theoretically you could get kicked out of the Corps. You couldn't get kicked out of Virginia Tech but you could get kicked out 51:00of the Corps based on the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. So where, the time I said I got arrested was at the Naval Academy. We took this bus trip up to the U.S. Naval Academy.
WRIGHT: Which one?
WILLIAMS: In Annapolis. And we were prevented from entering. They barred...theysaid...well they couldn't like lock the gate because it was the middle of the day. People had to come and go. And so they wouldn't let us in. They had police there, they didn't have riot gear. I don't think the fifty of us were that much of a threat, but I mean we were lined up all the way outside of the gate. And they said if we entered we would be arrested and we entered anyway. We entered the campus.
WRIGHT: So all fifty of you entered the campus?
WILLIAMS: Not all fifty of us made it in because once they started torealize...they arrested about twenty people and then they realized no one was stopping. We didn't care. I mean it was like a civil rights event. It was like peaceful resistance. 52:00
WRIGHT: What year was this, semester, give me a ballpark...?
WILLIAMS: It was spring of 2006, my second semester here. We walked in and itwas like a typical peaceful resistance type of arrest. They weren't handcuffed, they did like the plastic wrist ties, you know hands behind our backs, and they put 'em on every single person who walked through the gate and sat us down. Put 'em on, sit us down, put 'em on, sit us down, put 'em on, and you know we are not resisting because that's the whole point. Until they realized that it wasn't scaring anyone off, everyone just kept coming in and kept coming in. And so finally they relented and they were like, "Ok fine. We don't have the time or the jail cells. We don't have time to deal with this or the capacity." So those of us they'd arrested, they let us go and they let us onto campus but with very strict rules. We weren't allowed to go into any residence halls or academic buildings. We could only go into the student center or dining halls. We weren't 53:00allowed to be disruptive. We weren't allowed to pester people or whatever. We weren't allowed to march around and chant, hold up signs, it was like you can come and you can go be peaceful and talk to people in public spaces and that's it. And we were like okay, compromise. So I say I got arrested because a police officer put handcuff like things on me but I didn't actually go sit in a jail cell. But I still like to say I got arrested because I didn't care I was ready to go to jail. Bring it on. [Laughs]
WRIGHT: So were there any activities on campus or any moments of protest oncampus? I mean what was your experience here? I know you said you found that community here but did you ever encounter any adversity dealing with your sexuality on campus?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I mean plenty. There's lots of...whenever we would havesomething on the Drillfield, either a Christian organization and sometimes the 54:00College Republicans...God I just didn't understand, College Republicans nowadays are still stupid, racist idiots, sorry should that be off the record? Like their stupid alien invasion crap. Have y'all seen the ads for that? They're hosting an event either tonight or tomorrow night and it's called "Alien Invasion: Why Illegal Immigration Will be the Undoing of America."
WRIGHT: Yes, I did hear about that. For the record can you just kind of explainwhat that is, if you don't mind? Give us an idea about....the atmosphere.
WILLIAMS: So it's 2014 and the College Republicans and a couple of other groupsare endorsing this keynote speaker who's coming to talk about immigration issues. And immigration is a fine topic of conversation, but it's called "Alien Invasion." That's an othering term and it's very offensive and it's clearly racist. And it's targeted at Latino and Hispanic folks because this country is 55:00built on immigration and you don't hear about anyone talking about people emigrating from Europe or Canada. It's like "No, we've got to block that scary Mexican border." So it's a really racist, horrible event that's being proudly...I can't believe that people put that on a flyer, you know, and are advertising how illegal immigration, and that's also very othering – to use the term illegal to refer to another human being as being illegal – so it's basically an anti-immigration keynote speaker.
WRIGHT: Thank you for sharing that.
WILLIAMS: I went off on a little rant.
WRIGHT: No it gives an idea of the culture and the atmosphere that's on Tech atthe present day because you are working, you do work for Tech currently?
WRIGHT: That's very important. But to get back to your experience, can youshare, do you feel comfortable sharing any, the few occasions or the many occasions where you felt alienated?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, so the LGBTA office door was vandalized while I was student56:00here. People basically ripped pages out of a Bible, like the Bible verses – they call them the Clobber Passages – there's like eight verses in the Bible that deal with same sex sexual activity. I don't even call it homosexuality or gay sex because those identities didn't even exist in Biblical times. It's purely like same sex interactions. They ripped the Bible pages out that had those verses in them and glued them to our door and highlighted or circled the passages, and they took a sharpie and wrote on the door "God hates fags" "Fags burn in hell" "You're going to hell" and all that stuff. So I mean that was real vandalism that had to be scrubbed off the door and the Bible pages were glued so people had to scrape the glue off and stuff. The university didn't respond to it.
WRIGHT: In what way? What are you...one how do you feel about that and whatwould like for the university to respond to and then what did they actually do? 57:00
WILLIAMS: Okay, so the funny thing is, I was such a rabble-rouser, I was neverfearful because of that I was never like, "Oh my God it's so scary and homophobic and oppressive." I was more like, "Fuck these people." I was like, "Hell yeah, bring it on! I'm ready. Bring us the fight." So we went to the administration and were like, "Look at this rampant homophobia." I won't say we played it up, because I mean it was true. Can you imagine that happening to a Christian organization on campus? Where, I don't know someone ripped out pages of a Wiccan book and glued it to their door and were like, "Christians don't understand there's more than one God..." I don't know what the equivalent would be. So we went to the administration and their response was "Sorry we don't have any cameras in that portion of the building, so unless you can produce for us a 58:00suspect there's nothing we can do" And we're like, "what?"
A year prior to that, the Black Student Alliance door, which is right next ours,was vandalized in an even more grotesque way, in my opinion. Similar things like sharpies writing the "N" word on the door and things like that, but the people, they had smeared fecal matter on the door. And the university initially tried to give them the same bullshit like, "Sorry, this is horrible but..." whatever, but there was no public statement, which is kind of the most important thing. And then, because of the way hate crime laws are written to include race but they don't include sexual-- now they do include sexual orientation, there was someone from the FBI's Hate Crimes Unit came to campus to um...someone from the NAACP Roanoke Regional Office came down, and there was a big investigation and all 59:00this stuff with the university was trying to save face. You know like, "Virginia Tech's not racist and that's bad." After other outside parties got involved they reacted. Well we didn't have any of that to go on, and so what we started was a campaign. And I normally wear a bracelet but it broke two weeks ago. I've had this same bracelet for nine years and we termed it the "Give A Damn" campaign. Because we wanted – it's really problematic that we framed it in this way 'cause I never want to pit one oppressed group against another oppressed group, but everyone was kind of like this just happened right next door to us last year and Virginia Tech you reacted this way. And now it's happened again and you're doing the same thing where you're reaction is not reacting only this time we don't have the backing of the FBI's Hate Crimes Unit or a group like the NAACP 60:00to come in and...
WRIGHT: And make you do something.
WILLIAMS: Yeah. So we started this "Give a Damn" campaign where we had studentsfrom all over campus submit anonymously if they wanted or they could submit it with their names, stories of incidents of bias against them. And we delivered them all to the administration being like, look at all these different things that your current students have happen to them...
WRIGHT: I have a question. Now was it...did the stories that they're sharing,and I think that's a wonderful idea, the stories they were sharing was it dealing with like student to student interaction or was it professor to student interaction or was it...?
WILLIAMS: All the above.
WRIGHT: All of the above.
WILLIAMS: And it didn't even have to be and interaction. It could be justsomething that they witnessed, like if you saw hate speech scrawled in a bathroom stall, you could report that. If you overheard a conversation between two other people that you weren't involved with, you could report that. And so we delivered all that to the administration and at the time the Vice President for Student Affairs was Zenobia Hikes, and she was not only Virginia Tech's 61:00first female Vice President for Student Affairs in that role, she was the first black Vice President, so she got like the double minority card going on and it was awesome. And she started here right when I did, so that might have, my whole experience as a student at Virginia Tech was sort of framed by having this really powerful, respectful – she was respectful and respectable woman of color in such a high leadership position at the university and she really cared about the LGBT students because her daughter was lesbian.
And so she would come to our meetings, she would check in with us. Once I becamean officer...I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself...but she would always check in with me like, "John Gray how are things on campus? What do you feel? Have things improved?" She would check in with any LGBT students about the climate. So she was a rock star. She passed away in 2008. But we took all these 62:00reports to her of homophobia and incidents of bias on campus and we're like, "This is happening. What happened on our door is just the most recent, but this kind of stuff happens all over campus all the time and y'all aren't doing anything about it and we want you to give a damn." So we had these bracelets made that said "Give a Damn" on them, which is kind of a little bit taboo. And we presented that to her and remarkably, at a university with this much bureaucracy, she instigated or instituted what we call the Safewatch Program, which no longer exists. It's since been dismantled. But in the span of one semester she took a legitimate complaint issue and created a program to deal with it.
WRIGHT: So in 2006 to get a timeframe, in that semester...
WILLIAMS: Fall of '05.
WRIGHT: My goodness, fall of '05. So you started off going, okay. That's awesometoo. So in '05 how did you know or how were you able to identify her as an 63:00advocate, someone who would support you and not try to dismiss you or try to get you to leave the university, because typically that's the response – maybe this isn't the best school for you – so how did you find, what...? How did she position herself to make sure she was someone who who'd advocate for you on your behalf?
WILLIAMS: I was relying on the expertise of other students. At that time Iwasn't an officer yet, so I was relying on the expertise of others. Like Michael, he was actually the president of the organization, my roommate, when I...at this time. 'Cause like I said, I transferred in but he came in as a freshman. The leadership of the other student leaders who had been around for a lot longer really spearheaded this "Give a Damn" campaign. I was just there to help rally the troops. So I think they had insider information that she was a supporter and she just to me always seemed really approachable and really 64:00friendly. I didn't know that she had a lesbian daughter until much later.
WRIGHT: What do you think...and this is with any marginalized group...what doyou think, or how did you feel, what prompted you, where did you find that strength to fight? To say that this is not acceptable and we're going to do something about it, because it is sometimes easier to be quiet. Well maybe not easier because emotionally you go through your...it's tough emotionally to be quiet, but as far as maintaining harmony, it's easier to be quiet. So where did you find that inner strength to say that you know we're gonna do something about it, I'm gonna be a part of it?
WILLIAMS: It's a hard question to answer because I really don't feel that itrequired inner strength. Not to be altruistic and humble brag or anything like, "Oh I felt like it was just the thing to do." But, I mean I'm really extroverted 65:00so for me it was like something to do. And I think also it was the pendulum had swung back. I use this analogy a lot, I also at the time had a lot more rainbow – had gay shirts, had rainbow bracelets, although I'm still wearing a rainbow bracelet right now, but I had so much pent up repression from not being able to tell anyone or act or do anything for so long, that I got here, had that transformative experience of being at an all gay space at that party, that the pendulum swung and now it was like 'I'm here, I'm queer, come for me.' And I also, I liked the thrill. I liked the edginess of it. You know, I like the fact that I could've got arrested. I liked the fact, I liked arguing with people. For me it was fun it gave...it was like it was fun because it was important, but it 66:00also, we needed people like me who are outgoing and willing to fight the fight because there are a lot of people who are still closeted and can't fight the fight.
WRIGHT: So how did these events...I know you mentioned the gay marriage, wasthat on campus?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, the Freedom to Marry Day.
WRIGHT: The Freedom to Marry Day. So let's talk about that a little bit and thenwe'll get into Hokie Pride.
WILLIAMS: Okay. So Freedom to Marry Day happens in February every year and sothe LGBTA organized mock marriages, although we were conditioned not to call them mock marriages because that implies you're making a mockery of marriage. Although now my views on marriage have changed somewhat because I think it's patriarchical and oppressive in a lot of ways. And sometimes it bothers me. I'm worried that because now we have same sex marriages in so many states that everyone's gonna be like, "Ok, fight for your rights is over. Gay people are equal. Everything is great." It's like, no gay people still kill themselves at a 67:00rate of 3 to 1. They're still victims of way more hate crimes. They get bullied. Anyway, getting off subject.
WRIGHT: We will get to that.
WILLIAMS: Freedom to Marry Day...I wanted to participate in the protest, so Iparticipated as one of the two gay, there were two gay male couples, like two guys and two guys, and there was a lesbian couple, then there was a bisexual couple, which the bisexual couple just looked like a straight couple 'cause, I mean, that's just what it looks like. We actually shared a kiss. We read our vows, our vows at the wedding were like our statement of affirmation of our fight for civil rights. So we all were asked to write a little speech about what we were gonna do to fight for equality. Then we kissed each other, but not like a wedding kiss but just like a peck on the cheek. Well the CT was there. They took a picture of me and Brennan[?] Bell, that was his name, kissing and it made it in the front page of the CT. So, oh I should go get that for you I think it's 68:00up stairs in my closet...sometime.
WRIGHT: When we wrap up we would like to take it with us and actually we can geta copy and they'll call and release, so thank you for offering that.
WILLIAMS: I mailed that home to my mother, by the way. A copy of that, the frontpage of the CT I sent that home with her, to her. Because I was like, "Look at me mom I made front page news! And there I am kissing a boy."
WRIGHT: Well how did that...what year was that, that you participated in that,just for the record?
WILLIAMS: Spring of '06.
WRIGHT: Spring of '06.
WILLIAMS: Oh, that's what got me on the College Republicans. They were thereprotesting that, which got me on the whole rant about the alien invasion thing.
WRIGHT: Alright, Hokie Pride.
WILLIAMS: Like the current group?
WRIGHT: Your involvement...well let's clarify that...When did it become HokiePride? And when did you become I guess when did you become more involved in it, you know the transition from the group you were a part of to what it is today? So if you could just kind of walk us through it. 69:00
WILLIAMS: Yeah, it became Hokie Pride this semester. It just became Hokie Pride.And the transition was a name change, that's all. So the transition of the group was quite unremarkable. But I mean, I was in it as a student and now I'm a faculty member here, so my interaction with it is somewhat, it's still a social group for me because I just sort of aged out of it. It wasn't like I was gone for 20 years and came back. So, you know, when I graduated I still had friends in the organization and then by virtue of them I became friends with the younger people in the organization and I just kept going. So people who were like freshmen when I was a senior were like seniors when I came back from grad school. So it's like now no one in the organization was in the organization when I was a student, but those people, the people who were seniors, the freshman when I was a senior that were seniors when I came back, introduced me to younger 70:00people so now those people are the seniors, you know what I mean? It's like...so I have a friendly relationship with a lot of the gay undergrads here because they're friends with people I'm friends with.
WRIGHT: Now there is an interesting transition in your life because you didleave and then come back, but before we get into that aspect was there anything that happened on campus that you'd like to share, that you'd want us, that would be beneficial for us to know?
WILLIAMS: So well the "Freedom to Marry Day" thing happened every year. TheCollege Republicans were out there protesting us, a variety of Christian organizations were out there protesting us with signs where they had like Bible verses spray painted on signs. There was a...I remember one time we made fun of them because there was a misquote, like they misspelled a word, and then there was another one where they had a quote but then the Bible verse they had cited was the wrong one. It was like you know "from Ezekiel 13-1" and that wasn't actually the Bible verse that they had written. We made fun of them for that 71:00kind of stuff. So the big noteworthy things were like the "Give a Damn" campaign like with the vandalism, which turned into SafeWatch program, the "Freedom to Marry Day," the protests at other universities, um let's see...I guess for me I became an officer and I became in charge of Gay Awareness Week, which is now Pride Week. And so I brought...I was in charge of an entire weeklong series of events where I brought a couple gay speakers to campus, and we actually had another protest. It was called the Gay? Fine by Me Rally where we had a generous donator...donor who donated a bunch of shirts that say "Gay." Have you ever seen the gay fine by me?
WRIGHT: I have not.
WILLIAMS: It says "Gay? Fine By Me." We had someone donate like 100 of those shirts.
WRIGHT: What year was that and do you remember who the donor was?
WILLIAMS: The donor was actually a recent grad.72:00
WRIGHT: Okay, can I ask the name?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, Crysta Highfield. You might want to interview her too. Sheidentifies as a member of the community. She lives in San Francisco now, but...or Berkeley technically, but if you ever wanted to do a phone interview with her. So she donated these shirts and so we had tons and tons of people come out for like a big photo op and had a big protest. Well it wasn't a protest because it was just a rally. It was all positive. It wasn't in reaction to anything.
WRIGHT: So it was more of like awareness.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, it was called "Gay Awareness Week." So probably about 40 of us,maybe 50, posed on the steps in front of the bookstore, between the library and the bookstore, with a bunch of rainbow flags and stuff and we're all wearing these shirts. And all the shirts were different colors so it was like a rainbow. And you know that made it into the CT and I remember taking out a full page Gay 73:00Awareness Week ad in the CT 'cause I had under spent my budget and it was like you either spend the money or it goes away. So I took out a full like two color ad in the CT that talked about Gay Awareness and I had like statistics and stuff. I have that somewhere too. I don't know where exactly that is. I'm not sure I know where the other one is, I might have to get those to you later. But I had stats out there like, "Pause and take a moment, look around the room, count ten people," in my mind I was envisioning someone seeling this like looking around the room and counting okay, "statistically speaking one of them is gay." You know, "1 in 10 people are gay. So there's people that you know that might be gay that you don't even know." And then I put some statistics about hate crimes and about suicides.
WRIGHT: So I want to get back to some of your story and I know so...74:00
WILLIAMS: Oh, what time is it?
KINMOND: It is 6:55.
WRIGHT: Alright, so at some point you leave and was it going off to grad schoolor were you working?
WILLIAMS: So I left Virginia Tech campus as a student but I got a job in UrbanPlanning. Because remember I said they threw my whole grad school plan went out the window?
WILLIAMS: So I was like 'well I might as well just get a job with my bachelor'sdegree while I figure out what I want to do.' You know, start paying off my student loan debt. So I started applying for jobs in Urban Planning and I actually landed one here in Blacksburg. So that's how my story gets a little bit, I mean my life is my life, it's not that murky but in terms of I stayed in Blacksburg but no longer as a student but I was still intricately involved on campus. So while I couldn't officially be a member of the organization anymore because I wasn't a student, I still attended all the meetings. And I actually was the team captain of the first ever LGBTA Relay for Life team. I have a thing 75:00with t-shirts. I designed these like rainbow t-shirts and we had a Relay for Life team. And part of that was because I obviously value the fight against cancer and I like Relay for Life but also because of visibility. To like be like 'hey look, here's gay people doing a good thing and contributing to a good cause. You know, we're not just all here having sex and having gay parties and what all the stereotypes people associate with us.' So I actually did that as a community member because I was technically not a student anymore.
So that was for two years that I was involved, but not as a student. Then I quitthat job because I was sick of it, I hated it. And in the back of my mind all my social justice work, so in addition, I should say all my LGBTA activism led me, opened my eyes to the whole notion of privilege and oppression, and social justice, and learning about what other underrepresented groups experience. You know it was very easy for me to draw parallels between the LGBT community and 76:00people of color, or religious minorities and all that. And so I was like I want to do this forever. You know I went to social justice conferences and trainings and all this stuff and so I was like why am I doing this job I hate and I'd had this seed planted in my mind about possibly going into Student Affairs from my mentor, who was the advisor to the LGBTA while I was a student here. She just kind of sat down and said "John Gray...somebody has to make this happen. You know I have a job right and I get paid?" and I was like, "Of course," "well have you ever thought out how I got here?" I was like, "No I never did" because you ask the average student, if you ask them "Who works at the University?" Their number one answer they're gonna say professors. They don't think about how many other people make this place run.
And so she opened my eyes to the profession of Student Affairs and that wasbefore I even graduated. So this whole time I'm in this job here in town, the 77:00urban planning job, that I wasn't liking, I'm like Student Affairs, you should go to grad school. And I'd already thought I was going to grad school for Landscape Architecture so in my mind I was already prepared to take the GRE and like I was already grad school mindset but it just shifted from landscape to Student Affairs. And I decided to leave Blacksburg because Virginia Tech has a Student Affairs graduate school program but I wanted to get a different college campus experience, especially for that. 'Cause if you're gonna go to school to learn how to work with college students, you should experience a different college campus.
So I was in a relationship at the time, my first and only serious relationshipof my life, that lasted for about two years, we were in that relationship at the time so I decided my grad school choices were...had to be within driving distance. So I drew about a six hour radius around Blacksburg and so the furthest Southern school I applied to was Georgia, and so I went like University 78:00of Georgia, University of Tennessee, Ohio State, Penn State, on down around to University of Delaware and then some things in between. And I ended up going to the University of Delaware. But what really drove that was I want to do social justice work on a college campus. So everywhere I was applying, I was applying for assistantships in Multicultural Offices, Diversity Inclusion Offices, whatever, LGBT Centers. I wanted to do that work. The fact that I ended up being a Career Counselor, have I even said that's what I do now?
WRIGHT: We haven't gotten there yet.
WILLIAMS: Okay, that wasn't on my radar at all. I was like I want to do socialjustice work and I want to do it on a college campus and that's what ultimately led me to this profession.
WRIGHT: Well, that's awesome and that gets us to here – your current79:00experience here working at Tech. And I also want to ask you about the diversity on Tech's campus as well as student population, faculty population, administrators, and things and how does that...how did that effect...or how does that effect the gay and queer population here, or do you see a correlation between the diversity or even maybe lack of and if that kind of effects the atmosphere in a way here?
WILLIAMS: So are you basically asking in general is the fact that Virginia Techis not a very diverse place does that have any effect or like are you looking for specifically does it have a negative effect or...?
WRIGHT: Well how do you take it? 'Cause it...I'm hesitant to say Tech isn't diverse...
WILLIAMS: Right, I'll say it. You want me to say it? Tech's not diverse.
WRIGHT: [Laughter] Ok so Tech's isn't diverse. And so how do you believe, or do80:00you believe that it kind of has or does it have an effect on marginalized or minority groups?
WILLIAMS: I know that word seems so out of fashion nowadays. Okay, so I'll getto that in just a second. So I ended up, I couldn't get an assistantship in any diversity or multicultural office but I got one in Career Services at the University of Delaware. So that's why I ended up in this field because I had two years of assistantship in the Career Center there, which made me fully equipped to be a career counselor. That's what I'm doing here.
WRIGHT: Which department?
WILLIAMS: In Career Services, which is located at the corner of Washington andWest Campus across the street from McComas. But see, the wonderful thing about Student Affairs is because Student Affairs is pretty open-minded, liberal, Student Affairs is like the liberal bubble within the university. In the same way that the University itself, as conservative as it is, is still liberal 81:00compared to...the Town of Blacksburg is more liberal than you know, Giles County. And when I say liberal I don't mean necessarily politically, even though that is...I just mean more diverse, more inclusive, more open-minded than some of the surrounding areas.
WRIGHT: But it could be worse.
WILLIAMS: Right it could be worse. I mean it's not like it's DC or Berkeley,sorry, but it's also not you know, West Virginia. And so I was applying for jobs all over the country and then an opening came up here and I just threw my hat in the ring. I didn't really want to come back to Blacksburg. I had ended my relationship by the way. Long distance killed that, which is kind of bittersweet in some respects because if I'd known I was gonna be coming back to Blacksburg...like I was thinking I'm done with Blacksburg, I'm going to Delaware for two years for grad school, and then I'm gonna go to California, to Colorado, to New York, whatever. And he was still here and he was a senior and he had to 82:00go to grad school here for two more years and then it was just like...it was like this isn't...who knows where we're going.
WRIGHT: Do you mind sharing that? I mean two years is a long time of your life,do you mind sharing any aspects of that relationship and...if you want to share his name that's fine as well?
WILLIAMS: Oh yeah I will share his name. You should interview him too. Hisname's Scott Burton and we actually met, so this is kind of funny, I didn't think about that, we met at that Relay for life event that I organized. His father passed away from cancer and so he walks in Relay for Life for his dad and he was there at that event that I organized. So I wasn't even a student and he was a student at the time and we met there and kind of just became friends. And we didn't do anything that year and then the whole summer we were kind of just flirting a little bit on Facebook and then that fall semester started and I 83:00found out he lived in the apartment building right next to one of my best friends and we ran into each other, like accidentally. And it was kind of like, "Oh hey, you live here?" and it was like, fast-forward, we hang out more, we hang out more, and now we're dating. So that was my most serious relationship. That lasted for...we dated for a year here in Blacksburg, and then we dated for another year long distance. But yeah, that was my first ever real relationship. I had dated someone for about a month before and it was significant at the time for me because it was my first relationship...relationship – we dated for a month and he was crazy. [Laughter] Sorry is that a trigger word for you?
WRIGHT: No...it's just...I know what that can potentially mean, so it's like...
WILLIAMS: Well 'cause I was 22, he was 19. Anyway, I was...that at the time I84:00counted it but now I don't really count it.
WILLIAMS: But Scott, that lasted for two years and you know, he came to visit mein Delaware three times. We basically saw each other every month. Every other month one of us would make the trip. So I actually came to Blacksburg a lot even though I wasn't living here, which added to the weird lack of...there was no real break 'cause I was here every other month. And then I moved back here and it was almost like I never left. Some people were like, "Where have you been? We haven't seen you around as much." I was like, "I moved." "You moved away? But I still saw you all the time." I'm like, "Yeah I was here every other month," or more frequently than that if there was some sort of special event. Anyway, our lives were going in different places because I was potentially doing a national job search, he knew he was gonna be in Blacksburg for at least 3 more years, plus he had a special grant that was going to require him to stay in Virginia to 85:00teach because he's a public high school teacher in Roanoke, right...currently. Because of the grant he had that paid for his grad school he had to commit to teaching in the state of Virginia in exchange for that grant.
WRIGHT: Now is he openly gay?
WILLIAMS: Mmhm. Yeah that's kind of a deal breaker for me. I can't get, Ican't...that's why the first relationship failed. I can't do the closet. It's too hard for me to do because I'm such an open and genuine person–that sounded arrogant, "I'm so genuine"–but I can't fake it. I can't like, because it was too much demands with the other one, he was like, "Okay, this group of friends knows that I'm gay, this group of friends thinks I'm bisexual, and these people don't know. And my brother knows but my sister doesn't know and my parents don't know. So if my brother's around its okay but if my sister..." And it was just 86:00like "Dude, I'm just, I'm out, I'm done with..eeww." which goes to show I should be sympathizing with him. That's the oppression that LGBT people experience. It's not all about just like hate crimes. Sometimes it's just like having to...having such a complicated, socially nuanced life of what spaces are you out and what spaces are you closeted? So I don't like to play that game anymore. So I can only get in a relationship with somebody who's out totally.
So long distance didn't work and then lo and behold, we break up and then lo andbehold I graduate and move back here and I was like "Oh my..." So I moved back here while he was still here in grad school so it was like "Heeeeey, you want to try to date again?" No I'm kidding, there were other reasons we broke up, it wasn't just long distance. So I came back here and now the great thing about Student Affairs is that it's really open-minded and really inclusive. And so I 87:00get away with a lot. They let me do lots of diversity and social justice stuff at my office.
WRIGHT: Like what?
WILLIAMS: So I'm the liaison to Multicultural Programs and Services from ourdepartment so I'm the face of Career Services for MPS.
WRIGHT: What is MPS just so we know?
WILLIAMS: Multicultural Programs and Services.
WRIGHT: Okay, MPS...M?
WILLIAMS: Oh yeah...MPS. So it's my job to do outreach to the different studentgroups that fall under that, which Hokie Pride is one of them, Black Organizations Council, Black Student Alliance, Asian American Student Union, you can find all that online. So I do special outreach to them to make sure that they're aware of what Career Services offers and also to do some specialized tailored programming to them.
WRIGHT: So what do you mean when you say outreach and the programs offered, whatdoes outreach look like or consist of and what are the programs that you offer to these groups?
WILLIAMS: Okay, so part of it just getting our name out there. Letting them knowthat Career Services exists, because a lot of people don't know we exist, because we're not like a fun department. We're not like, people know about 88:00Student Activities, people know about Rec Sports, you know, 'cause those are the fun things. People know about Dining Services because they eat. But Career Services a lot of people don't think about until someone points it out to them, or they Google "I need help with my resume" and we pop up. So just letting them know we exist. We can help you with your job search. We can help you choose a major. We can help you explore careers. We can help you with interviewing skills. So kind of like making them aware of our services but also, I work to present presentations–that was redundant–to present to them on either what I call the bread and butter topics, which are like how to write a resume, how to interview, how to search for a job, like doing outreach, bringing a workshop to them.
And what I'm currently developing, which hasn't--it's been so busy that it'sbeen hard to do--I wanted to develop some really specialized tailored things basically about issues that underrepresented groups face in employment. Like 89:00with the LGBT community, like you can legally be fired for being gay. So how do you talk about your LGBT involvement on a resume, you know, if you're not trying to be out? Or if it comes up in an interview where someone asks about your spouse how do you--technically those questions are illegal but, how do you navigate that? And then of course with the student groups for students of color, like you know, it's illegal to discriminate based on race, only you know it still happens. So how do you navigate that on a job search? Dealing with sensitive issues about like how are you going to present your name on your resume? Like it's really kind of tragic that some students feel pressure to change their name on their resume if they have an ethnic sounding name.
WRIGHT: Ethnic, yeah bunny ears ethnic, quotations.
WILLIAMS: Like Jose changing his name to Joe, or whatever. Or, you know, I knew90:00someone who was named Alicia but it was spelled A-L-I-S-H-A, considering spelling it A-L-I-C-I-A. You know, because it's like the white way to spell it. So just addressing some of those really nuanced issues or ways that you can research to see if a company's inclusive. You know, how to weed through a diversity policy, like does it have any teeth or is it just a front? You know, look at the diversity of the administration at the organization. Is it a bunch of old white guys or do they actually have diversity? Those things are still in development 'cause they have to be done right. And I've only been the liaison there for one year so I'm still getting that stuff off the ground, but I also, my office, I came out in my job interview, accidentally almost, well they asked me because they knew I was a student here–so I wasn't an internal candidate 91:00but I was kind of internal-esque, and they basically said, "As a former student here, you have more insight into Virginia Tech than the other candidates we're interviewing for the position, in what ways do you think Virginia Tech can improve? What areas do you see Virginia Tech need to improve?" And so of course my answer was diversity, right. And I talked about all my LGBT involvement and in that I was like, "So I'm gay, so I was really involved in the LGBT group when I was a student" blah blah blah. And then afterwards I was like, "Oh my god I just said that, why did I talk about that?" [whispered] And it was actually at the big group presentation where I had presented on a topic to the entire staff.
WRIGHT: What did you present?
WILLIAMS: What did I present?
WILLIAMS: I had to talk about how the five aspirations for student learning.Have you heard of them?
WILLIAMS: In the Division of Student Affairs we have these five aspirations forstudent learning. Basically they're tenets that we want every Virginia Tech graduate to leave with these five things. Things that you learn outside the 92:00classroom: curiosity, integrity, civility, courageous leadership, and a commitment to "UT Proism" you know, the motto. And so the prompt was "how do you see career development work fitting into that model of those five things?" We had to talk about how it fit into that. But then afterwards it was like Q&A. You know, like ask me random questions, well the point was you're supposed to ask questions about my presentation but it was a free-for-all. People could ask me anything they wanted. So they asked me the question about ways I think Virginia Tech needs to improve and I answered with that.
Just this past Friday, for the third year in a row, I've organized an LGBTQnetworking reception, where I bring in alumni, LGBT alumni, LGBT professionals from the community, LGBT faculty and staff, with LGBT students to meet at the 93:00Career Center and have a big LGBT networking reception, where we talk about things like being out in the workplace, or coming out on the job, and all those topics related to employment and LGBT, where students can ask real, live professionals, people who are LGBT identified who are in the workplace, what it was like for them, or what it currently is like for them. And so my office sponsors that. So I get to run these gay programs. I'm the liaison to MPS. I am a SafeZone trainer on campus, so LGBT Safe Zones I help facilitate and get other faculty and staff members trained up to be a SafeZone. I sit on the diversity committee. So I get to, even though I'm not working in the multicultural or diversity inclusion realm, I get to do a lot of those things anyway because my 94:00office is really supportive of it.
WRIGHT: Well I'm not gonna say last question because I'll probably ask a followup but why did you choose to participate in this project?
WILLIAMS: 'Cause I think my story is worth hearing.
WRIGHT: And it is.
WILLIAMS: Because, I'll tell you why, because I know that, I think, oh I lovetalking, I think I was at Virginia Tech at this really awesome critical juncture where when I came to college in 2005, gay marriage, and this, gay marriage should not be the litmus test for gay equality, but you could get married in one state when I came to college, and that was Massachusetts. And now you can get married in 30 states. And so the current college students and people moving through Virginia Tech now and onward, millennials, you know like they've had access to the internet and they've seen the gay rights movement and they've seen 95:00the fight for equality since they were in middle school. And so now it's like run of the mill, like there's lots of people fighting the good fight for gay rights and it's very visible now. And you're also gonna interview people from the before times, you know, people who were here in the 60s and 70s and 80s and 90s when they viewed it as being way more oppressive and way more homophobic and really negative. And I think that I...I think my story is gonna be somewhat unique, I guess you'll be the judge of that, in the sense that I experienced a lot of negative things but I'm a really positive, optimistic, upbeat person and I just want to make sure you don't get a lot of "Oh my god it was so hard and it was so horrible," because those are valid stories, everybody's story is valid, but just know that I enjoyed my time here a lot. 96:00
WRIGHT: That's gonna be my, probably, final question for you, well second tolast question for you. Can you share some of the positive experiences of being a Hokie, and even at your current position, and you're still a Hokie?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I mean, yeah it's also weird finding a new identity for myselfhere. So, I love Blacksburg. I love the small town feel that it has. I love how it's generally a pretty warm and friendly place. But I have passing privilege in the sense that I'm gay but not everyone knows I'm gay. I'm not like 'Barry the Fairy,' I'm not particularly effeminate. I do talk with my hands a lot, but I have passing privilege in the sense that I don't ever feel unsafe walking down the street. I'm a big guy so people aren't gonna mess with me and I don't look 97:00gay–whatever that is. So I don't ever really feel unsafe here. I'm not answering your question am I? I love the sense of community. I love the school spirit. I love the colors. I love the fact that for me Virginia Tech is where I became, Virginia Tech's where I learned how to be who I am. Because everything up until Virginia Tech was the closeted John Gray, and everything after Virginia Tech was John Gray the gay person, John Gray the activist and the social justice fighter, John Gray the professional. Like everyone blossoms in college, but I mean I really blossomed in college. And you know, it's big enough that there are pockets of people, everyone can find their people here 'cause it's big enough. 98:00So even though it's not the most inclusive place, it's so big that like there are gay people.
WRIGHT: And then this will be my final question: was there anything that wedidn't discuss that you would like to share?
WILLIAMS: Hmmm [Whispers] I don't know, possibly. [Laughs] Um...hmm...yeah Idon't know.
WRIGHT: Well, if you have more time.
WILLIAMS: What time is it?
WRIGHT: It is...this is going 7:30ish. Is that what you have?
WILLIAMS: 7:20 okay 'cause I was like oh crap 7:30, I mean I, its okay if I'm alittle late to dinner. We're going to Mellow Mushroom so I know they're gonna have to wait. I know there's gonna be a wait there.
WRIGHT: Okay, well I do want to ask you this, because it deals with education99:00and I know I said that was the final question but I like, I'm very inquisitive and you're a very interesting subject, and I hate to use/refer to you as subject but...
WILLIAMS: Thank you, thank you.
WILLIAMS: Put me in a test tube. Put me in a glass jar on a shelf.
WRIGHT: [Laughter] What was your as far as your educational experience? I knowyour undergraduate degree was dealing specifically with Urban Planning but you did have to at some point take your Gen Eds. And at some point did you, running back to the teacher in me, did you ever kind of learn about gay experiences at Tech? 'Cause I know in middle, high school it's kind of touchy you can't really, but in college, was that an open discussion in your academics?
WILLIAMS: Sometimes I made it part of the discussion. I mean it's so bizarre.I've never thought about it. You're forcing me to think about something I never thought about. 'Cause in my opinion, it was always just like well, I came out and once I was out I was out. But it was like I came out guns blazin', ready to fight. 100:00
WRIGHT: And when you say ready to fight what does that mean? Were you...whatdoes that mean?
WILLIAMS: I was just instantly ready to fight for gay rights. I was like "I'mgay and this is bullshit." Like gay kids shouldn't be killing themselves because people pick on them and gay people should be allowed to get married and they should be able to hold their hands with their partner in public without being harassed. I also sometimes wonder how my brain is hardwired for certain things that like, God forbid you don't get exposed to them. Like for me, social justice is not only a passion but it's an intellectual fascination. I'm so fascinated by social constructs and social identities. I almost majored in Sociology.
WRIGHT: So do you think, and just from my interpretation of what you're saying,do you think it was the lack of what you saw is what prompted you to want to fight? So is that a good...? 101:00
WILLIAMS: Mmm...lack of...what would it be the lack of?
WRIGHT: A lack of equality. A lack of hearing about yourself in the classroom,I'm adding to this so correct me if I'm wrong, but do you think that led to...
WILLIAMS: In society in general, not necessarily that I would even pinpointVirginia Tech because there's always pockets. There's a class on LGBT, there's like a course. I think they're trying to get a major started right now or a minor, a minor. But for me actually, I think part of my social justice, I can't separate out the gay from the social justice to some extent. I took the most transformative class I've ever had in my entire life–Nations and Nationalities. It's an undergraduate class that Edward Wiseman teaches and in that class we read three books but only two of them are sticking out in my mind right now. One was a book about the Holocaust, and just reading, I mean I 102:00learned about the Holocaust in high school, but learning about it and having to write a 10 page college-level critical reflection, like no bullshit's gonna pass like it did in high school, about the Holocaust was opening my eyes and seeing how...and in the book it talked about how gays were treated in the Holocaust as well as Jews. And then another book called The Bluest Eye, have you heard of it by Toni Morrison?
WRIGHT: I've heard of it.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think it's on the bookshelf. I'm pretty sure it's up theresomewhere. And it's called The Bluest Eye and it's about a little black girl who sees how good her white friend has it and has blue eyes. And she thinks that this girl has everything because of her pretty blue eyes. And so this girl longs for the day that her eyes will turn blue. She's like 'I'll just wait til my eyes turn blue and then my life will be perfect' and like she almost goes crazy. Like, she gets so delusional dreaming about the day that she gets her blue eyes 103:00like her friend and it's just heartbreakingly tragic. It's like willing the unwillable. So that class and the conversations that happened in that class, and hearing the people in that class who were ignorant [whispers]as fuck[?] and then hearing other people in that class who were way more enlightened than me discuss this, it was just really eye-opening for me. And then I took a class on international development, in which I learned that colonialism is the worst thing that's ever happened to this planet. [Laughs] And I mean, I'm not someone who--I try to avoid having white guilt or male guilt because I didn't choose to be either of those things, but I mean holy crap that was hard to learn about colonialism and how I benefit from it to this day. Well we all do, even folks of color or women, if you're living in America, you're benefitting from colonialism, you know. It's like...
WRIGHT: I can understand that argument, as a black woman I can reason throughthat argument. [laughs] 104:00
WILLIAMS: Yeah, right, well clearly we're all more complex. We are oppressed andprivileged at the same time. And in, I guess what I was getting at, when I learned that there are just tens, hundreds of thousands acres of really arable farmland in parts of Africa and other parts of the developing world that are used to grow cash crops instead of food, so you have people starving and getting paid pennies on the dollar to grow things like tobacco and peanuts, so that they can sell them to Europe and to the United States for huge amounts of money, instead of growing food for the people to eat, and it's just like such a broken system.
WRIGHT: Alright, this is my final question.
WILLIAMS: This is so unrelated but...[laughs]
WRIGHT: I promise you, this is my final question to you, throughout ourinterview, I think at least three or four occasions you mentioned the current 105:00issues for the gay community. Of course in Virginia we're now allowed to get married, but can you speak on some of the other issues, some of which you mentioned, as far as suicide higher than other groups, can you care to share? And then I'll…
WILLIAMS: Yeah. So you know, marriage equality is great and all, but marriageequality really benefits, you know, the upper class gay people. There're a lot of issues that LGBT youth face with bullying, especially trans members. There's the L--I hope that you get to interview some trans folks 'cause trans issues are really different from gay and lesbian issues, but the higher suicide rates, the constant reinforcement that the lifestyle you're living is a sin. So even if you have legal protections in the form of being able to get married, its like if 106:00you're a kid and you're growing up in church and you hear every day that you're gonna burn in hell when you die, I mean, that kid doesn't care if gay people can get married. They're going to hell. It's like really, really bad and the fact that a lot of times, you know, gay people can still get fired, you can get legally fired for being gay. Homelessness--gay people getting kicked out. Like a teenager comes out to his parents and they kick him out of the house. Homelessness, suicide, there are a lot of issues, I mean most of the issues that I'm thinking of are referencing LGBT youth but that's like the most critical time in life because that's when people find out they're gay because you hit puberty and secondary hormones start kicking in. You know, like I said when I was a little kid I was intrigued by the naked men in the locker room but it wasn't until puberty that I became aware, self-aware that I was gay. And that's 107:00when teenagers need the most support of any group. You know, well except maybe like infants, because there's so much turmoil in their life at that...oh my God I would never relive… When people who said that high school were the best years of their life, and no offense if it was for either one of you, but I'm just like 'ugh now I feel sorry for you.' 'Cause it was not the best time of my life. So yeah, that's when I say I don't want people to be like "Well now that we have equality." I mean the same thing happens with issues for people of color. It's like "We have a black president, what's the problem?" Post-racial, here we are. And it's like no, just because...it's like we've had interracial marriage since 1969, the Loving vs. Virginia, do y'all know that case?
WRIGHT: Of course.
WILLIAMS: I love the name, Loving versus Virginia, and Virginia is for lovers.It's like oh, so now that that happened interracial couples walking down the street holding hands don't get stared at, or gawked at, or have people say things like, "date within your own race" or "protect the races" and all that 108:00stupid crap. So just because we have marriage equality doesn't mean that gay people are suddenly gonna be treated equally.
WRIGHT: And to wrap this up, I mean you did a great job of comparing, 'cause itdoes transcend the issues with the LGBQT, and I'm sure I'm missing some other letters of the community...
WILLIAMS: Alphabet soup.
WRIGHT: With people of color and people who are poor, those issues do transcend,so I think you definitely did a great job of kind of wrapping that up. Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, thank you.
WRIGHT: For your time.
WILLIAMS: Happy to help. Let me know if this ends up in a gay history book or something.