Equality gala return in person for tenth anniversary

Another event returns after a two-year hiatus, based around reimagining childhood fairytales and inclusion


Andrew Claybrook

The Virginia Colleges Equality Gala made its in-person return on March 12, undeterred by the March snow that hit campus early that morning. 

The gala, held from 8 p.m. to midnight in Evans Dining Hall, was the culmination of many students and staff members’ hard work and passion in reviving one of Washington and Lee’s great social events.

It has been two years since an in-person Gala has happened, and only current seniors remember the last one, held in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic sent students home mere weeks before the 2020 gala was scheduled to happen, leaving boxes of decorations unused. 

In 2021, a digital gala week was held, with the highlight event of the week being a digital performance by Shea Coulee, a star drag queen known from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Jake Reeves, assistant director for LGBTQ+ life, described planning the gala as a “wild ride.” 

Reeves went on to say that planning an in-person event was much more complicated than last year’s virtual events. 

“Seniors are the only ones who remember what an in-person gala was like,” Reeves said. “It was the perfect year to rethink how it’s done.”

The gala is a collaborative effort by Queer Liberation Alliance, the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, and Student Activities. The three groups coordinate to plan the theme, buy decorations, bring drag performers to campus, set up the space, and promote the event.

The four drag queens who performed are all Virginia-based: Jasmen Clitopatra and Alexis Kennedy Salad from Richmond, Enya Salad from Roanoke, and Arione Decardeza from Waynesboro. 

There were two performances, one where the queens did material relevant to the storybook theme, and one where the queens displayed their best work.

This year’s theme was “Storybook,” and decorations within the gala included tables themed around stories such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

As indicated by the name, the gala is more than just a Washington and Lee event. Queer Liberation Alliance reached out to roughly a dozen Virginia colleges and universities, inviting them and their queer students to the event. Local community members were also invited, with some attendees coming from Rockbridge County High School. While Virginia students were the primary invitees, some people came from as far away as Rhode Island to attend the event with their friends and partners.

The gala is ultimately a charity event, with all proceeds going to the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center in Staunton. At the time of writing, total donations were expected to be over $2000 to the center. The gala was also preceded by an event hosted by Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company, where a drag fundraiser was held to support the planning and implementation of the gala.

Tahri Phillips, ’22, is the Gala Chair for Queer Liberation Alliance, the primary student liaison from QLA who works with the Resource Center and Equality Gala. Phillips assembled a student committee to help plan and execute the event, including registration coordinator Jensen Rocha, ’23, setup coordinator Briteil Danipour, ’23, and cleanup coordinator Elena Lee, ’25. They worked with Jake Reeves and Student Activities Director Kelsey Goodwin to ensure the event was a success.

The efforts of everyone involved are especially meaningful, given that this is the tenth anniversary of both the Equality Gala and the establishment of LGBTQ+ Resource Center. 

Reflecting on this milestone, Jake Reeves said that “it’s huge to be part of something this historic.” He said he’s eager to “think about where we can go and amp up LGBTQ+ programming on campus to set a precedent for years to come.”