Women's Center's Claire Kaplan Honored with Bernard D. Mayes Award
On November 7, 2015, members of the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center’s staff had the pleasure of attending the Serpentine Society’s Fall Gala and seeing their long-serving colleague, Claire Kaplan, recognized for her contributions to the University’s LGBTQ community. The Serpentine Society, an Alumni Interest Group of the University of Virginia Alumni Association, gives several scholarships and awards at this annual event where students, faculty, staff and alumni gather to honor the recipients, celebrate the successes of the society and its members, and encourage continued efforts to advance LGBTQ equality at the University.
The awards given by the Serpentine Society this year began with the presentation of the V. Shamim Sisson Ally Award to Anne Broccoli, the University’s Director of Faculty and Staff Benefits. Anne’s work has been important in the area of benefits equity for LGBTQ employees and their families. Shamim Sisson, for whom this award is named, has long been actively engaged with the Women’s Center’s work and our staff members attending the gala were glad to see Anne receive the award that bears Shamim’s name. Everyone was touched by the presentation of the Serpentine Society’s Outstanding Service Award to Robert D. Sweeney, Senior Vice President of University Advancement. Bob was generous in sharing how unprepared he had been years ago to learn that one of his two sons is gay. He relayed how his initial misgivings had given way to an understanding of the challenges that LGBTQ youth face growing up and a sense of how important it is for schools to have the resources to support them. Bob was specifically recognized by the society for his unflinching leadership of an LGBTQ-inclusive organization that has driven successful fundraising campaigns for LGBTQ student scholarships, the LGBTQ Center, and LGBTQ Studies in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality program in Arts & Sciences. The capstone of the evening was the presentation of the prestigious Bernard D. Mayes Award for excellence in public service to the LGBTQ community to Mark Herring (Col. 1983, Grad. 1987), Virginia Attorney General, and Claire Kaplan (Curry 1991), the program director for Gender Violence and Social Change at the Women's Center.
Attorney General Herring’s actions on behalf of marriage equality in Virginia have great meaning for many across the Commonwealth and tremendous personal impact for many in attendance at the Serpentine event. Sharon McGowan (Col. 1995, Deputy Chief in the Appellate Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and 2014 recipient of the Mayes Award), noted that prior to 2014 her own family and many others had needed to take significant legal steps to even be comfortable returning to Virginia with their children for a weekend event such as the Serpentine Gala. Claire and others shared memories of Bernard Mayes who passed away in 2014 and who is remembered as a role model for his students and for the many colleagues he inspired throughout his fruitful career in media, education, advocacy and human services. Claire’s remarks, excerpted here, gave all who were there a clear understanding of what Bernard’s leadership has meant to so many at UVA:
“My only regret is that Bernard isn’t here to celebrate with Attorney General Herring and me. There was nothing better than to be the beneficiary of a celebratory comment peppered with his dry British wit, then receive a sidelong twinkle from the corner of his eye. Bernard really did have a twinkle that made whatever he said, however angry, sharp, funny, or wise, more gentle. I miss him.
I must bear tribute to another colleague who was a role model for many of us, and an outspoken ally to the LGBTQ community, who inspired so many UVA students and taught them the art of social justice work: Julian Bond. We were so lucky to have had both men at UVA, sharing their wisdom with all of us. What an embarrassment of riches! Both Julian and Bernard knew that standing on the right side of history was rarely easy.
When I came to UVA in 1991, after President Casteen added “sexual orientation” to the University’s non-discrimination clause, a group of mostly faculty and a few staff, led by Bernard and Charlotte Patterson, had begun the process of forming a group that would advocate for our rights at the University, and provide a way to break the pervasive isolation that so many experienced here.
We all looked to Bernard Mayes as the standard-bearer, who often partnered with Charlotte to take on the Board of Visitors, or various administrative offices, including the office of the President, while some of us tagged along to lend our voices.
We will always need more Bernards, who just act when it’s necessary, damned the consequences. Who talk the talk but also do the walk. The good news is that there are Bernards all around us. The joy in being an advocate and activist on a university campus is that there is an endless stream of young people with new energy, new enthusiasm and new ideas to pick up the banner."
Among the Women's Center colleagues there to applaud Claire and all of her hard work, this last bit was a fitting note on which to end the evening. It's so important to take the time to celebrate successes and to thank those who lead the way in achieving much-needed gains in social justice. But it's just as important to wake up the next morning ready to do all we can to cultivate "more Bernards," to identify, encourage and train that "endless stream of young people with new energy, new enthusiasm and new ideas." At the Women's Center we take as much pride in our daily behind-the-scenes work developing students' leadership skills as we do in the spot-lit moments. And we're equally grateful for the opportunity to be part of both.
Photos taken by Dakota Wood