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.