By Lucy Rudman
After years of work by alumnus and community member James Gipson (C’66), the Rainbow Fund in honor of Bishop V. Gene Robinson (C’69) has been officially instated. The fund is for “degree-seeking students at the College of Arts and Sciences who accept human equality and are active members of the Gay Staight Alliance or its successor organization and, in addition, LGBTQ+ programming at The University of the South” and is named after Bishop Robinson, who was the first openly gay Bishop in the Episcopalian Church.
Gipson brought the idea for a fund that would help students who “believe in liberty, equality and justice for everybody” and “LGBT+ and allies” to the Rainbow Ribbon Society (a local community organization dedicated to the LGBTQ+ agenda) Homecoming weekend of 2006. After 12 years of fund-raising, the goal of $50,000 was reached.
According to the official document shared with The Purple, the fund provides “secondary financial support” for unexpected needs, such as emergency travel, non-routine medical and dental expenses, expenses associated with study abroad or career preparation” and anything else that is a non-tuition cost. Full-time undergraduate students who are active participants in Spectrum or the Queer & Ally (Q&A) House may seek funds on a “rolling basis.”
Most of all, it is designed to “promote the visibility, achievement, and overall advancement of the LGBTQ+ community at the University.” However, according to the Q&A House, even as the campus becomes more accepting, there is still work to be done.
“Fortunately, I already see LGBTQ+ acceptance on this campus…” said Katherine LeClair (C’21), co-director of the Q&A House, “but I think this scholarship demonstrates to people outside of Sewanee that we value difference and appreciate the contributions of our LGBTQ+ students. I’m so glad that I can share information about the scholarship with incoming students.”
Sarah Signorino (C’23), who could possibly use the fund in the future, expressed relief about the possibility of financial help, explaining, “If there were ever an urgent situation where I needed money to, for example, see a doctor off-campus or travel home, the Rainbow Fund is a resource I could access for help… [and] it makes Sewanee more inclusive to LGBTQ+ students.”
Involved parties include faculty advisors for the Q&A House and Spectrum, Assistant Professor of English Dr. Ross Macdonald and Assistant Professor of Spanish Arturo Marquez-Gomes, respectively, and Interim Associate Dean Betsy Sandlin, who is serving as the fund manager.
“I am thrilled that these funds are available to support students and to enhance LGBTQ+ programming,” Sandlin explained, “The fact that it is designed to do both is very intentional — on the one hand, it allows us to support individuals who have out-of-the-ordinary expenses that pop up and cannot be covered by other means, and on the other hand, it promotes LGBTQ+ visibility and community building on our campus.”
Sandlin also explained that, because this is the first fund that provides this opportunity, “We aren’t sure yet exactly what sort of needs exist. Once we know more about the needs, interests, and aspirations of our LGBTQ+ students and student leaders, we’ll know more about the Fund’s impact.”
“Overall, the fund serves as a positive reminder of an LGBTQ+ presence on campus,” said Sandlin, “The more we can do to promote dialogue, celebrate and support our LGBTQ+ community members, and work toward creating a safer and more inclusive environment for all, the better. I see the Rainbow Fund as a step in that direction.”