On the Record: Lavender Graduation speaker Kara Swisher (SFS ’84)

This April for the second year in a row, the Georgetown University LGBTQ Center will hold Lavender Graduation, a ceremony for LGBTQ students and this year, for LGBT alumni. This year’s commencement speaker is Kara Swisher (SFS ’84), a writer and the co-executive editor for the Dow Jones blog All Things Digital. Vox caught up with Swisher to talk about her time at Georgetown, what she wants to tell Georgetown students, and “sneaky gays.”

When I spoke to [LGBTQ Center Director] Shiva Subbaraman, she said she had some trouble convincing you to speak at Georgetown. Was that related to your time here?

You know, I had a good academic time at Georgetown. I had some really terrific teachers and being in Washington was great. But on a whole lot of issues surrounding gays at the time, a lot of things really disgusted me. There was a group that wanted to organize to support gay students, and the school wouldn’t let them, and they sued, and the school went all legal crazy on them, and a huge legal battle ensued.

It was pretty appalling that the school used so many resources in a legal battle against its own students. And there was a counter-group called the Straight Students of Georgetown who mocked them …. The whole tenor surrounding gay issues at the time was very neanderthal, and so not in keeping with the tolerance that an institute of higher learning should show.

So what ultimately convinced you to speak here?

A lot of the gay activity, it’s so different now. When I went there, there was so much furtive gayness going on so it was just so hypocritical for the University to act like there were no gay Catholics that needed their support. I was so surprised that they have so much stuff going on for gay students. It’s something that happened to a lot of other schools a while ago, but for it to happen at Georgetown is still very surprising.

I was surprised to glad see that at the minimum, Georgetown said, we’re not condoning these negative viewpoints about gays. I was pretty to see that they have an [LGBTQ Center], and a center director.

What do you plan to talk about when you speak at Lavender Graduation?

I’m definitely going to talk about my experience there. It was a different time, you couldn’t be out. It’s hard to [imagine] what it was like if you weren’t there. I’m going to talk about the hypocrisy of what happened around the Church and gay issues. It’s not like there weren’t gay Catholics, and they didn’t need their support. Plus, with recent things coming to light, how they were protecting other people who were morally repugnant… But either way, to me, at the time, it was just so obvious, the hypocrisy.

I’m gonna talk about what it means to be gay today. It’s nothing like it was in the 80s and 90s, but there are still hardships. My partner and I have been married four times. We got married in Canada—the people of Canada are very nice—but that isn’t recognized here. When [Mayor of San Francisco] Gavin Newsom decided, on his own basically, that gay people could get married, we got married. But then the courts overturned it. They even returned our license fee and it was like, well gee, thanks.

It’ll all change. In a hundred and fifty years it’s going to be laughable. In 25 years, it won’t matter, but now it does.

Have you been back to Georgetown since graduating?

I’ve been back to campus, I have seen the changes. But I haven’t gone back to reunions, and I’ve been back to Columbia [University] where I went to journalism school, and my high school for reunions. I was really turned off by my time at Georgetown. I’m not a huge activist, but I’m not going to be treated like crap.

So I’m assuming you weren’t really out when you were at Georgetown?

I was kind of out, I wasn’t as out as I should have been. But I dated people while I was here.

Did you experience discrimination while you were at Georgetown?

You had to hide. There was a reason why you had to hide. There was a lot more discrimination against men. But there were a lot of gay people there hiding. I should have been much more out than I was. But we had to be sneaky about it. That’s it, we were like “sneaky gays.” My friend Jane Lynch had a joke about that on Glee, where she plays Sue Sylvester, who’s of course just an awful person. In her segment Sue’s Corner, she complains about “sneaky gays” basically said that gays need to swish it up more, because she can’t tell who’s gay and who’s straight.

We were all sneaky gays then, now we’re not. I had a great academic time at Georgetown, though, and I made a lot of wonderful friends. I’m looking forward to hearing from the students there, I have no idea what it’s like there now and I’m anxious to find out. I hope they feel like they’re having the great time they deserve.

This post originally said that All Things Digital was a Wall Street Journal blog. It is owned by Dow Jones.

7 Comments on “On the Record: Lavender Graduation speaker Kara Swisher (SFS ’84)

  1. I would bet a substantial sum of money that a lot of students a quarter century ago felt that there were certain things Kara implicitly accepted when coming to a Catholic, Jesuit university.

    You can’t change minds — you just change generations.

  2. wow, she really hates georgetown…
    no problem with being open about how things were, but it would be more constructive to reflect on the positive progress rather than harp on the way things were and engage in a bashfest

  3. I don’t think she “really hates Georgetown.” I think she is bitter at the treatment she and others received at that time. And I can’t say I blame her.

  4. Exactly, Shrug, I don’t hate it. I hated how we were treated, and–of course–how we let ourselves be treated. Also, paying over $50,000 over four years to an institution of higher learning and being treated as if you don’t exist does not really put you in a good mood about a place.

  5. @ Kara,
    I understand your frustration, but I hope you realize that a lot of what you experienced was a product of the time, not the specific institution. And fortunately, Georgetown has done a lot to move past that time. No, it’s still not perfect, but Georgetown is trying, and I am certain that the student body is much different ideologically than it was even just ten years ago.

    I also do appreciate the tough position created for Georgetown by its relationship with the Catholic Church, and so while suing the students and otherwise treating the LGBT population poorly is inexcusable, I definitely applaud the University for its trend towards improving, even while the Church—and the die-hard religious constituency of the school—oppose progress at every step.

    In short, I would urge you and anyone who feels the same way you do to be careful about holding the sins of 1984 Georgetown (and its student body/administration) against 2010 Georgetown (and its largely different student body/administration).

  6. Tim, I think Kara understands quite well how different societal attitudes overall were then vs. now. She talks about it in the interview. At the same time, it’s difficult not to develop certain mental associations based on what happened in a particular place, especially one that you haven’t been back to very often. Birmingham may be a lovely town, and the events that took place there were certainly functions of the times, but it’s hard to blame someone for retaining a sense of bitterness if their visit included having Bull Connor sick dogs and water cannons on them.

    More importantly, Georgetown stakes a claim to a higher standard, that this isn’t just a school but a community based on mutual respect, tolerance, and, as a Jesuit might put it, a sense of fraternal love for one’s fellow children of God. Even if the rest of society was and is more hostile, it’s supposed to be different here. Georgetown has done a pretty good job in this regard when it comes to other faiths, but definitely not when it comes to those whose sexual orientations do not conform to the Church’s prescribed ideal. It’s a good thing that we are now working to address this, but the past is instructive and should not be glossed over. Past is prologue.

    The fact that this sort of shoddy treatment was going on at the same time as massive coverups involving pedophile priests were going on inside the church hierarchy is ironic in the most bitter possible way, but that’s a different story.

  7. According to the John Jay Report, the majority of the abuse was done by priests who had a perverted sexual attraction to teen-age boys. The nature of abusers are that they are manipulative and deceitful, which makes it difficult to expose abusers and their abuse. That being said, “homosexuality” refers to sexual relationship or preference. As Catholics, we know it is demeaning to refer to someone as a sexual object. We are to see one another as Men and Women, made in the image of God. As the Mother of a Daughter who struggles with a “homosexual” inclination, I recognize that the need to define oneself according to sexual desire makes it appear that those of us who refuse to condone sexual acts that do not respect the Sacredness and Dignity of the Human Person are discriminating against a person, when in fact, we are discriminating against a sexual relationship. I love my Daughter, and want her to know The Truth. Only through Christ, can we know the essence of Love. This is The Truth that will set you free.

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